Ahoy there me mateys! This was me last read of 2018 and I loved it! This is a dystopian where the Earth is almost completely covered in water. There are small island settlements where the “landlockers” live. But the majority of folks are “damplings” who spend their time on boats and ships of all sizes. The story follows two women – a landlocker named Callanish and a dampling named North.
The beauty of this tale for me was in the differences of the two cultures and how they viewed each other. The religions, lifestyles, beliefs, prejudices, and priorities just felt so real and wonderfully complex. Personally, I would rather be in the dampling culture (Arrrr!) despite them being treated as second-class citizens. Though eating seaweed in all its varieties might get a little bit old.
Despite me love of the dampling life, I did actually enjoy the character of Callanish a lot better. Part of it was her lifestyle. She works as a Gracekeeper. Her job is to administer burial rites to damplings. Also Callanish had more agency in her own life while North never really stood up for anything she wanted or believed in. I understand the reasons why but it was hard for me to stomach. Plus there was some mystery to Callanish’s past which made her sections more interesting.
The book did have some minor flaws for me. There were some unanswered questions regarding how exactly the sea trade worked. If land was so scarce, where did the cruise ship come from? How did they maintain their ships? Are there dockyards somewhere? The damplings can eat food from the sea like fish and seaweed and such. So why are they so dependent on landlocker food?
Also the plot had a bit of silliness to it. It was a minor issue because the world-building had captivated me. But the floating circus (aye, really!) didn’t seem feasible in all its parts. The ringmaster was a bit ridiculous in his denial. The marriage and house subplots had big holes and were overly dramatic. I wanted the bear to go away half-way through the story. The answer to the mystery in Callanish’s past was very less than satisfactory. There were these other pieces like the military and the religious cruise ship that seem incongruous to the rest of the world and the story being told.
But honestly, I didn’t care. I read this in one sitting and the time flew by. It worked for me and I can’t wait to see what else this author comes up with. Arrrr!
Goodreads has this to say about the novel:
For readers of The Night Circus and Station Eleven, a lyrical and absorbing debut set in a world covered by water.
As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying 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.
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