The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

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A flooded world. A floating circus. Two women in search of a home. North lives on a circus boat with her beloved bear, keeping a secret that could capsize her life. Callanish lives alone in her house in the middle of the ocean, tending the graves of those who die at sea. As penance for a terrible mistake, she has become a gracekeeper. A chance meeting between the two draws them magnetically to one another – and to the promise of a new life. But the waters are treacherous, and the tide is against them.

This atmospheric YA novel is a cross between dystopia and magical realism, full of ethereal imagery that gives it a magical quality. The world has flooded and only small pockets of lands are left- the population is now divided between landlockers, the wealthy who live on the land, and the damplings, who live on the water. North is a dampling who performs extravagant circus events with her bear in order to survive, while Callanish is a landlocker with a secret, living apart from her people as a gracekeeper.

Kirsty Logan’s prose is strikingly beautiful and I would read the book again just for that.

“The apple was a perfect sphere, green speckled with red, shiny as a bird’s eye. Avalon pulled a silver knife from her dress pocket and cut the apple’s softening flesh into quarters, exposing the pips tenderly. Its scent exploded in the air: sweetly souring, past its best but still with a sheen of juice.”

The narrative shifts to various different viewpoints, which was refreshing and allows for a free-flowing plot. The characterisation is vidid and colourful and brings each individual to life, oozing glamour, hatred and sex. It was this that made me so impatient to get back to the book when I wasn’t reading it.

The world-building- when it exists- is intriguing, but falls short by leaving so many unanswered questions. The origin of the practice of gracekeeping, starving birds to death above water graves to indicate the period of mourning, is never explained. As a gracekeeper, Callanish must live separate from all others, but there is never a hint of who has decided this and who governs the world she lives in. I would have liked to have known the backstory to the segregation between damplings and landlockers, and what place the religious sect had in the narrative.

“Spectacle is grounded in the illusion of control.”

Themes of the rituals of life and death, pregnancy, gay relationships, Scottish selkie mythology and Shakespearian play on gender make this novel unique. However, the ending was a little lacklustre, with a tragic event not causing nearly as much grief as it should have, which made the relationship involved less authentic. People have suggested that one of the main themes of this book is female bodily autonomy, but I found it odd how a scene in which a selkie impregnates a character in what realistically should be defined as rape didn’t seem to be a matter of concern to the victim.

Despite some of the slightly disappointing aspects, this is still a compelling, artisitic novel and one that I would recommend to lovers of The Night Circus and Church of Marvels. Next on my list is Kirsty Logan’s A Portable Shelter.

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

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I’ve read and loved all of Rebecca Mascull’s novels, but The Wild Air was my favourite yet. Set in the Edwardian era and the world of early aviation, it is the story of Della Dobbs and her extraordinary flying adventure.

In Edwardian England, aeroplanes are a new, magical invention, while female pilots are rare indeed.

When shy Della Dobbs meets her mother’s aunt, her life changes forever. Great Auntie Betty has come home from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, across whose windswept dunes the Wright Brothers tested their historic flying machines. Della develops a burning ambition to fly and Betty is determined to help her.

But the Great War is coming and it threatens to destroy everything – and everyone – Della loves.

Uplifting and page-turning, THE WILD AIR is a story about love, loss and following your dreams against all odds.

Although it doesn’t have a particularly fast paced plot, this novel is a page turner. One thing Rebecca Mascull does exceptionally well is characterisation.  She has us fall in love with a character, hooks us to their situation or predicament so intensely that we have no choice but to read on until the end. For me, the protagonist, Della, was so real that she walked right off the page, as did Betty, Pop, Dud, Mam and Cleo. The relationships between the characters are complex I could almost feel the emotions pass between them.

Della encounters obstacle after obstacle on her quest to become a pilot, and the authenticity of the era and setting reveals the shocking reality of the sexism and violence that aviatrices had to face for simply wanting to fly. Della is an intriguing character. While it’s great to have gutsy, ‘tomboy’ female characters,  these days this can be overdone. Della was a breath of fresh air- she is a quiet, dutiful daughter who tinkers with bicycles in her spare time. It made her defiance, and her journey to self discovery, all the more satisfying. I felt like I was watching her grow as a person with my own eyes, and I found myself rooting for her from the very first page.

The writing, as usual, is exquisite- especially the flying descriptions. A blend of poetry and aviation jargon! The novel is written in the third person but Rebecca has still managed to capture Della’s voice. She doesn’t speak as eloquently or as metaphorically as the protagonists of previous books, but this reflects Della’s social class, upbringing and beautiful simplicity. “Della talked aloud to herself. She did that when it was marvellous and she revelled in the complete wonder of flying, the secret joy of it. Or when it was bad. When the mist came down or the wind got up something terrible and she was fighting the weather in order to come back alive.”

Also intertwined with the main plot is a beautiful, very pure but not at all cheesy love story, through which Rebecca contrasts the freedom of the skies with the despair and horror of the war. I also love how she included some research at the end of the book about female aviatrices of this era so as to bring their stories to light.

I was captivated by this novel and I’ll never look at an airplane the same again!