Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Audio Book Review: The Gracekeepers

Listened 5/15/15 -5/30/15
4 Stars - Highly Recommended in audio; an intriguing watery apocalypse with a floating circus, you guys!
Length: Approx 11 hours
Publisher: Random House Audio
Narrator: Katy Townsend
Released: May 2015

The premise of Kirsty Logan's debut novel The Gracekeepers -  a post apocalyptic world where the sea has swallowed most of the land - immediately brought to mind the 1996 Kevin Costner film Waterworld. (Oh come on, don't tell me your mind didn't go there! But also, don't worry, it's miles better!) In it, society has been broken up into two parts: the "landlockers", a higher class of  people who live privileged lives on the remaining islands, and the lower class "damplings" who are forced to make a life at sea.

Callanish hovers between the two, self-exiled on a small island where she performs the solitary and somber role of Gracekeeper. That's a fancy term for administering shoreside burials, known as restings, for the damplings who sail their recently deceased into her graceyard. Once she releases the body into the water, she marks the spot with a caged Grace - lovely little birds that are raised to be starved to death out on the ocean. Their death, interestingly enough, signifies the end of the grieving period for the bereaved. Callanish performs these restings in exchange for food and supplies.

Floating from archipelago to archipelago is the glorious Excalibur and its motley crew of circus performers - led by Jarrow, the ringmaster, and his demanding and extremely pregnant wife Avalon. The circus boat pulls itself ashore, night after night, to entertain the landlockers and fill their bellies with their hard earned food. Theirs is a show unlike any others - with gender bending maypole dancers; acrobats; a fire-breather; bitter, subversive clowns; and a girl who dances with a bear.

When an unexpected storm takes the life of one of their acrobats, the Excalibur makes its way to Callanish's graceyard and an instant bond develops between the Gracekeeper and North, the circus's bear-girl. Through their meeting, North finds the strength to share a secret that has been weighing heavily on her for some time and Callanish finds a kindred spirit, someone who will not judge her for her differences. Once the performer's body had been laid to rest, the two women reluctantly say goodbye - North and her bear climb aboard the Excalibur as the circus moves on in search of work among the islands, and Callanish is left alone again, to grieve the things she thought she'd put behind her for good. But they have left lasting marks on each other and its ripple effect will change the course of both their lives.

Kirsty Logan's world is very much on the brink of war. Tension is building everywhere. It's found within religion, both that of the 'World Tree' worshipping islanders from Callanish's past to the more ritzy Revivalists who sail the seas in giant luxury ships. It lives in the social struggles between the damplings and landlockers, which greatly influences our little circus - many of those on the Excalibur have ties to land in one way, shape, or form, but none hunger for it more greatly than Jarrow and Avalon, though for very different, and potentially deadly, reasons.

A haunting, stirring novel, The Gracekeepers was brought to life beautifully by Katy Townsend's whispery narration as Kirsty's mystical and dreamlike prose gently guided us through the book's alternating chapters. And like any good performer, Kirsty subtly weaves Scottish lore and myths throughout this watery world of hers as she distracts us with the glitter and gold of the circus life.

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