The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan came to me through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program.
About the Book:
Sometime in the unspecified future, the seas of Earth have risen. Great cities are now completely under water, and all that remains of the land are tiny islands scattered throughout the vast oceans. Earth’s population has sorted itself into damplings (who live in perpetual motion on the sea) and landlockers (who make their homes on the precious remains of the land). The two groups are wary of one another at best, and customs have evolved to keep them separate from one another.
We meet North, the bear girl in a ramshackle dampling circus, as she tries to keep a secret that threatens to upend her life. We meet Callanish, a private and mysterious landlocker who lives alone in a sea-bound house along the Equator, carefully concealing her own secret and struggling to face her past. She earns her meager living as a gracekeeper, laying to rest in the sea the dead who are brought to her. North and Callanish are worlds apart — but there is something that binds them together, too.
I had high hopes for The Gracekeepers. There’s a quote on the back of the ARC from The Independent that claims Logan “brings to mind Angela Carter, or Atwood or Winterson at their best.” I have not read Carter or Winterson, but I have read plenty of Atwood. My thoughts were along the lines of: Really? Margaret Atwood? And not just any old Margaret Atwood, but Atwood at her best? Behold, my skeptical face:
It’s possible these lofty claims ruined the book for me from the start, but I don’t think so.
When Margaret Atwood writes a novel — and I am thinking here of her dystopian MaddAdam trilogy in particular, of which I am very much a fan — the society in which it is set is complete: history, culture, belief system, the works. Its tendrils reach far and wide, pulling together the context necessary to create a stunningly believable world. By comparison, Logan’s world felt thin — a meager broth instead of a rich and intricate stew. I kept waiting to hear more about how things had gotten to be the way they were. Planet covered in water? People living on boats? Ancient rituals of the landlockers? Logan would drop a hint, then never return to the topic, and I found this flavor of omission to be frustrating. The world of The Gracekeepers is bleak enough that it’s not a place I wanted to spend time if I wasn’t also either watching the plot unfold (more on that in a moment) or learning about this world of Logan’s.
Along with the lack of sufficient explanation, I had a major gripe with the pacing. The book was slooooow until about 90% of the way through. There was a lot of subtle tension-building going on that didn’t really get us anywhere. Things stayed largely the same until, near the end, they sprang into motion. Then they happened almost too quickly — suddenly everything was completely different, the seemingly unsolvable problems had been solved, and I found myself sitting there thinking, Wait…what?? In a way, most of the book felt like introduction to me…and then it was over, the messiness swept away and the remains tied neatly into a bright tableau.
Also? I got tired of hearing about circus people’s relationship to glitter (in their veins, under their skin, etc. etc.). Cool imagery the first couple of times, but eventually one needs to find a new image.
The book certainly wasn’t all bad. In fact, there were a lot of promising aspects. For instance, the premise is pretty cool. The fact that the novel didn’t do enough to satisfy my curiosity about the history and cultures of this new world and its inhabitants means the premise piqued my curiosity in the first place. The story is imaginative, too, and unlike anything else I’ve read; I particularly appreciated the way in which Logan described what various permanently floating existences might look like. And though many of the characters seemed a little flat and I didn’t care what happened to most of them, I did like North. She was, to me, the most human of the lot, and I wanted to see her happy.
The Verdict: Mediocre
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan certainly had its redeeming qualities, but overall I found it dissatisfying on several points. I’m sure there are many readers out there who will love it, but it won’t be making it onto any favorite lists of mine. I will, however, be curious to see what Logan comes up with next and hope to see her develop as an author.
What books have you read that had the potential to be fascinating, but that failed (in your eyes) to sufficiently build enough context around the story to really succeed?