Book Review: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Not gonna lie, the main thing which drew me to this book was the artwork. Not only is the dust jacket beautiful, but underneath that it has mermaids. Yes, MERMAIDS.

AND, if that’s not enough already, inside it has this gorgeous blue map:

*swoons from pretty book overload*
 
Once I’d finished squealing about all of that, I read the blurb and the Amazon preview. Well, that was it. Straight in the basket. Arrived a few days later and had finished reading within the week (which is extremely rare for me, as I am a ridiculously slow reader!).
 
The Gracekeepers follows the stories of two women: North and Callanish. North is a bear trainer in a travelling circus, and Callanish is a gracekeeper which is someone who performs funerals for those who die at sea. They live in a post-apocalyptic world where water has consumed most of the land, leaving only small islands to live on. Due to a storm, North and Callanish meet and their fates become entwined. But both women are in dire situations, and need to free themselves before they can find happiness.
 
Character wise, I really liked North and Callanish. As the beginning of the book focuses on North for awhile, I was expecting her to be the main protagonist. But then Callanish appears, and her narrative is much more active and engaging. She has a clearer character arc, and more emotional development. North doesn’t seem to do much, really. Yes, she is in an impossible situation (which I won’t spoil for you!) but I can’t help feeling that she’s a little bit too subdued. Especially considering her motivations and what’s at stake for her. As the novel went on, I expected her to get more assertive and attempt to secure her future, but she didn’t.
 
Callanish, on the other hand, takes control big time. She takes dangerous risks, and actively seeks to make up for her past. In comparison, North is very plain. For me, I feel that her main purpose is to provide Callanish with a chance to redeem herself. Maybe I’m missing something, let me know in the comments if you feel differently!

The plot of The Gracekeepers is very character driven. As well as being from Callanish’s and North’s points of view, there are also chapters from the perspectives of other circus members and people Callanish encounters. Overall, not a great deal happens action-wise, but by no means does that make the book dull! It’s really gripping to see what different characters make of events, particularly in the circus. They all have their own motivations and goals, and all of them affect everyone else in different ways. This creates a lot of drama and tension, which kept me page turning. Also, Logan’s prose style has a lovely, smooth flow so it’s nice and easy to read.

Finally, the worldbuilding. Hands down, this is my favourite thing about The Gracekeepers. I love worlds that feel alive, that make sense and have their own little quirks. I already mentioned that this novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, but forget the Hunger Games-esque futuristic dystopia that seems to be everywhere now. Here we have islands where trees are sacred, majestic underwater ruins of cities, and graveyards (called graceyards, hence gracekeepers!) in the open ocean filled with cages of tiny birds. I hesitate to say it’s magical, because this world does not feel like fantasy. It feels gritty and realistic, but certain elements of it have that ‘ahhhhh’ quality. I also love the little details, like how those who live at sea are called ‘damplings’ and those who live on land are called ‘landlockers’ or ‘clams’ as a nickname. Worlds with their own terminology cannot help but be authentic!
 
If you want to read something different, something original and absorbing, then this is it. I struggle to pin The Gracekeepers to a specific genre because it’s that unique, so I’d say just give it a go! It’s not one of those books that is for a certain audience, I feel. It’s just there to be read and loved by all. And think how good that pretty cover will look on your bookshelf once you’re finished…

 

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Amelia Starling is a writer and folklorist. She graduated from the University of Winchester with a degree in Creative Writing, and is a content editor for Folklore Thursday. She loves travelling and collecting stories, and spent 15 months living in Japan doing this alongside teaching English. Amelia blogs about folklore and fairy tales at The Willow Web. You can follow her on Twitter @amyelize.