The Gracekeepers was certainly an unusual book with many interesting ideas but in the end the story itself didn’t quite hang together for us. The world Kirsty Logan has created is a future society, based on a flooded earth where land is at a premium and society is split between those who live on dry land, the ‘clams’ and the ‘damplings’ who are forced to live on a variety of boats and make their living on the move. It seems to be an authoritarian society and there is huge mistrust between the two groups. The setup offered opportunities to explore the theme of prejudice outside some of our normal cultural boundaries.
The two central characters are North, a girl who travels in a circus group performing with a dancing bear, and Callanish who has chosen (or been forced) to leave her island home and become a Gracekeeper, performing the funerals and marking mourning periods for the dampling community. Their lives touch at various points and they feel a strong bond.
The language Logan uses is lovely – often very poetic and captures the ebb and flow of her watery world. The process that led to the earth being flooded is not made clear but the feel is of an apocalypse which has brought myth and superstition back to the fore. Some of the character names point to places wreathed in myth – Callanish and Avalon. At one point North goes diving down to the ruins of a city below the waves.
The tawdry glamour of the circus and its people comes across. It is a subversive element welcomed by the clams for its hint of exoticism and the clowns in particular like to challenge the authorities and the soldiers.
The story itself is not particularly gripping and many of the characters are rather two dimensional but the scope of the ideas touched on that could be further explored was tantalizing. One element we discussed was how mourning periods are no longer formally marked in our society.