About The Gracekeepers
• Hardcover: 320 pages
• Published: May 2015 by Crown
• Source: Blogging for Books
Goodreads Description: A lyrical and moving debut in the tradition of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, introducing an original and commanding new voice in fiction
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.
When it was time to choose my next Blogging for Books book, there were a ton of great choices and I was starting to feel like I’d never be able to narrow it down. And then I looked at The Gracekeepers, and right there on the front page it said it was for readers of Station Eleven. Immediately I knew this was my book. (If you’re new here, Station Eleven blew me away. Read my review here.)
Honestly….I’ve had this book for a looooong time. Probably long enough that I’m risking getting kicked out of Blogging for Books. It got buried on my bookshelf (easy to do), and if I’m honest, I was a little turned off by what I consider a so-so Goodreads rating of 3.6. Typically Goodreads ratings are pretty in line with my opinions, though Emma Straub’s work is the exception – I’ve loved both of hers that I’ve read, and I think they get a rating somewhere around 3.2.
Anyway. I finally picked it up a few weeks ago, and I can happily say this is another book that deserves a higher Goodreads rating. Or if not higher, at least a disclaimer for people like me who typically sneer at anything less than a 3.75.
The Gracekeepers follows two girls, North and Callanish. North lives on a boat, is part of a traveling circus, and is best friends with a bear (who’s also her circus partner). She grew up with the circus, and has lived on the water her entire life. Callanish is a Gracekeeper, and lives in what I can only describe as an over-water bungalow. Her job is to care for Graces, birds used in the Resting, which is essentially a water burial.
The first half of the story focuses more on North and the circus, and I found that much more interesting than Callanish and the graceyard. Much of the tension is built on references to a mistake Callanish made (you have no idea what), a baby North is carrying (you have no idea whose), and a world where those who live on land scorn those who live on the water (you have no idea why). North and Callanish’s stories intersect about halfway through, and the two feel a powerful bond. The remaining half of the book is more or less the two of them trying to find each other again. Truthfully, I found the ending a little rushed, and wished there had been more depth – the story was neatly wrapped up in about 10 pages.
If you asked me what I liked so much about this book, I’d be a little hard-pressed to tell you. Sure, the prose has a rhythm to it, sort of a rocking like the sea. That said, the characters are fairly…dull. Or unremarkable, maybe, is a better word. We don’t really get to know them, and we don’t see much growth. Normally that would drive me batty, but for some reason here it works. At first, the lack of detail comes across as lazy and frustrating. However, the more you read, the more the haziness lends itself to the story. This is one of those books where the rhythm of the writing creates the atmosphere, not the words themselves.
There’s something about The Gracekeepers that draws you in, and even though it’s a somber story, it doesn’t feel depressing. There’s a sense of longing and searching, and a quiet satisfaction that even the rushed resolution doesn’t quite take away. It’s the kind of story to read on a rainy day, with a cup of coffee and a down comforter.
I received this book free from Blogging for Books in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.