Wow. What a book! The Gracekeepers is likened to The Night Circus and Station Eleven. I can see where that comes from as there is a traveling circus a la The Night Circus and the travelers are kind of a ragtag group of people barely surviving in their world a la Station Eleven. But this book is decidedly it's own entity.
The story is mainly told by the two main characters with a few chapters thrown in from other folks. First is Callanish, the gracekeeper. A gracekeeper is sort of like a funeral priestess. She lives alone on a floating house and when someone dies, they take the body to her for "burial" at sea. For each dead body, there is a little bird in a cage and when the bird dies, the mourning period is officially over.
The other main character is North who performs with a dancing bear in the traveling circus. The circus is run by a big ringmaster and his horrible wife. There are clowns and acrobats and horse dancers. They all work hard to hide their shabbiness. The circus lives on a little caravan of boats and travels around the world performing for the landlockers.
There is so much going on in the story, I just can't even scratch the surface of what drives these characters. They have problems they're trying to solve, or pasts they are trying to come to terms with. And it's just beautiful.
Let me say something about the world. At first, I thought this was a lovely made-up world of islands in a vast sea. But then I ran across this sentence: "Whatever the truth, over time the landlockers had learned to blame the banks, the relentless drive for more money, for the rising seas and the loss of their land." Suddenly, I realized this might actually be a dystopian novel, set in a future post-glacer-melt.
The tone is mysterious and ethereal. Elegiac might be a better word. All the people are struggling physically and emotionally. Several times, the story could have devolved into something prosaic and coarse, but it didn't. For example, one of the characters unintentionally sets herself up to be sexually assaulted, and I wondered if the story would go that route, but the potential assaulter pointed out how he knew that could have happened, but he wasn't like that. I liked that the author acknowledged the potential and chose not to add that twist. It would have cheapened her story immensely.
This book tricks you into thinking there is magic in this world. There is not. The writing is just so magical, that you feel like there is. It doesn't need it.
I loved the tone of this book, and it has stayed with me after reading the last page. I highly recommend.
I received this book from Netgalley.com.