Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Gracekeepers

The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan, crosses what I like about young adult fiction (story and setting) with the prose and themes of adult fiction, which it is. As my readers know, the adult section of my shelf is very short, but occasionally, I do pick one up. What attracted me to this one was its setting, a world covered by water, almost like in the movie Waterworld, and a circus boat traveling from island to island. Books about circuses are always a bit odd and intriguing, especially if the setting has other large quirks, as well. (For instance, my husband and I thought of writing a book about a circus performing in a post-apocalyptic world before we ever heard of the concept elsewhere. The idea intrigued us: the pursuit of happiness amidst despair. Well, we never wrote more than a couple short stories about it, and now, I've seen at least this book and one other like our idea on the market.) Cross Waterworld with the book The Night Circus, add a bit of mythology and a large dose of melancholy, and you have The Gracekeepers.

North is the bear trainer in the circus. She ignores the past as she dances with her bear for her act and sleeps by his side at night, all the while balancing life and death, and not just her own but that of her secret unborn baby. Callanish is a gracekeeper. She has webbed hands and feet. She has run from her own past and lives by herself on an island, where she helps damplings (those who live at sea) bury and mourn their dead, the period of mourning marked by the days it takes for a bird (called a grace) to die in a cage. Two lonely women from opposing backgrounds, one a dampling and one a landlocker (those who live on the small amount of land there is), cross lives in this tale of tragedy and hope.

I think the title of this book was not well-chosen. Only half the book is about any sort of gracekeeper, and there's only one of any importance to the story until the end. I suppose it fits the emotional resolution of the story, but it seems to also spoil the ending or, at the very least, hint at it.

As for the end of the story, it reminds me of why I veer more toward young adult fiction. Our world is gritty and real and sad enough without novels that are likewise. Granted, some of the young adult fiction I read is more violent and certainly has gritty elements to it (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner), but somehow, those stories, despite a degree of realism, portray the idealism and hopefulness of youth. The Gracekeepers is a little more about how life really goes, if you believe you have to make your own way and God doesn't factor in. It portrays a rather sad and pointless existence. And I suppose, in this existence, the female protagonists actually have a pretty decent ending. Their pasts are finally put behind them, and they find a satisfactory end, all things considered. It's actually almost happy, though I had a hard time seeing it that way at first. I guess I wanted more. More justice. More redemption. More hope. More happiness. I'm used to reading books that don't really end, the beginnings of series. But for a standalone book, I wanted a bigger bow on the end, the strings all tied up neater. Instead, I got somber realism...well, at least as much realism as you can get in a bizarre world such as this one.

There's one more thing about the story that is important to me, as a Christian, to mention. The world of The Gracekeepers has its own versions of religion, one of which has to do with hoarding wealth, leaving pollution in its wake, working hard toward salvation and forgiveness (No grace here! And maybe that's the point.), and condemning all those who don't get in line. It's very cultish. Another form of religion worships the land and the trees for their rarity. None of that is even close to what real faith is, sadly, and if that's what people imagine religion to be, no wonder they don't want it.

All that said, the story is beautifully written. Not too much detail is given, and a lot is understated. But the detail that's there is enough to create strong visuals and lingering impressions. It's a world painstakingly created and not easily forgotten. I think it will impact people differently than it did me, so if you're intrigued, give it a chance. My own rating is three out of five stars. This book is available mid-May.

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