I’m not sure how to categorise The Gracekeepers (whether novels should be pigeon-holed at all is best left for another time and place) but I will settle for describing it as a grown-up fairy tale. I fell under its spell within the first couple of pages and remained utterly enchanted all the way to the end. I cared about the main characters Callanish and North so much that I emitted a pathetic whimper when it all got rather tense towards the end, and my other half gave me a concerned look from his armchair. It was one of those books that was so wonderful I had to tell people about it even when I knew it wasn’t their cup of tea and they’d never consider reading it.
A few generations ago there were oceans and there was land, now there is only a scattering of archipelagos in a world of water. Land is scarce and consequently something of a status symbol among those who value that sort of thing. The population is divided into landlockers and damplings, mutually distrustful, each on the whole sticking to their own preferred habitat of land or sea, living in a house or on a boat. Callanish Sand is a gracekeeper, living in a house surrounded by water, consigning the bodies of those who’ve died at sea to their proper resting place in the graceyard she tends as punishment for a past mistake. North and her performing bear live on a boat attached to the circus they grew up in. Both Callanish and North are living with secrets that could finish them, and when their paths cross the possibility of a different future opens up for them both.
Each chapter of the book is from a particular character’s perspective so we see the world and the current situation from the point of view of several of the circus performers as well as North and Callanish and a couple of others. The crew of the circus boat are like an extended family centred round the ringmaster, his second wife and his adult son, and all the usual secrets, lies and jealousies abound. Family ties and what makes a family are themes that run throughout the book.
The writing was so vivid that each of the characters came to life and the world made perfect sense within itself. I loved the contrast of the magic and illusion of the circus at night, with the slightly faded past, its best version in the daylight as the crew go about their day to day tasks. The constant movement of the boat echoes the precariousness of the circus as they perform for their supper on island after island, hoping for an appreciative crowd of landlockers but wary of the revivalist boats decrying them and looking for converts.
The Gracekeepers was one of those completely immersive reads, where you enter the world fully but so far it’s Kirsty Logan’s only novel. She does have two short story collections available, which I haven’t read yet but sound like they might have a similar fairy tale feeling. Her website is at http://www.kirstylogan.com/