As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, sending the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.
In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.
Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.
A lyrical, descriptive novel that focuses more on the individual character journey rather than an action-packed race to a destination. It’s fairly slow moving, with perspectives from our two main MCs, as well as the supporting characters. However, this was the kind of slow pace I could deal with, in appreciation for the atmosphere created by the writing – the ever-dulating sea life, the cold isolation of Callanish’s life on her island, the superstitions of the landlockers and the damplings, the stifling closeness of the circus life. It’s also a novel that’s fairly fluid on genders, in terms of some of the circus acts, as well as sexualities, without spelling anything out for us specifically.
The worldbuilding is not overly-detailed, in that the book is set in an unspecified future time period where water levels have risen to such an extent that land is both in short supply and highly prized. However, the whys and hows are not important in this context, because it’s merely a backdrop for the main focus of the lives of the circus folk. Where I would usually demand plausibly accurate explanations for whatever dystopian-type world setting is described, it isn’t necessary here.
However, the novel is intentionally vague in some places, but this didn’t bother me. I think it comes down to personal taste with this novel – I was happy just to go with the proverbial flow, but the whimsical qualities might not work for everybody.
Finally, I really enjoyed the depictions of the clowns, for some reason. These aren’t your jolly circus giants with Ronald McDonald hair and colourful suits. These are somewhat sinister actors whose goal and role is to subvert – to challenge the status quo, to elicit reactions from their audience, whether it be joy, anger, disgust. I found the short glimpses we had of these characters to be fascinating.