The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

9781784700133

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.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A_Monster_Calls

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Down who died of breast cancer before she could write it into a story, A Monster Calls is a young adult novel brought to life by Patrick Ness. A book that is raw in emotion, it tells the story of Conor, a teenage boy whose mother is dying of cancer, whose father has left him for a new family in the US and who is bullied at school. Conor is terrified of losing his mother, but his true nightmare is something he’s hiding deep within himself. A monster calls at Conor’s home and tells him three stories that are true. Then Conor must tell his own truth or be eaten.

This is a modern day fairytale which captures the anger of a child facing his mother’s imminent death in such an authentic, gritty way that it’s painful to read. As an aspiring children’s author, I feel that touching just one child with my stories and allowing him or her to relate to a particular situation or emotion and draw comfort from them would be the greatest achievement there is. Patrick Ness has done this with A Monster Calls. The novel is a validation of grief and anger and the unfairness of death. The author is telling the reader: it’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be sad. Death isn’t fair. It’s a validation of the guilt you can feel when a loved one passes away, because the worse that could happen has happened and you don’t have to fear it anymore.

“You be as angry as you need to be,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your grandma, not your dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard.”

This book reminds us of the complexities of human emotion.

The monster always visits at 12.07 and tells Conor three stories that could be interpreted as representations of Conor’s relationships with the main people in his life. Through these, Conor must look at himself and face his most darkest, secret truth.

“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”

Despite Conor’s pain and the darkness of the book’s themes, there’s still room for lighthearted humour and teenage sarcasm that makes you laugh.

“Who am I? the monster repeated, still roaring. I am the spine that the mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse and the fly that are eaten! I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you, Conor O’Malley.

“You look like a tree,” Conor said.”

By the end, the story comes full circle and all the loose strands meet together in a satisfying and meaningful way. This novel deals with such important concepts; the acceptance of death and the anger that follows. It is heartbreakingly beautiful and if you’ve ever experienced the death of a loved one, I would urge you to read it.

The monster called to heal Conor, but he’ll heal you, too.

Five Books for Fans of Philip Pullman

image1

Cogheart by Peter Bunzl

A steampunk adventure which takes place in an alternate version of Victorian London beneath a sky filled with steam-powered airships, the setting of this novel reminds us of Lyra’s Oxford from the His Dark Materials series. Mechanical people, friends that run on clockwork and a brave, female heroine are all reminiscent of Pullman’s Clockwork. Peter Bunzl shares in Pullman’s talent for creating despicable villains!

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

A tree that thrives on lies and a determined heroine constantly repressed for being young and female. This book reminded me of Lyra Belacqua and her truth-telling alethiometre in her battle against the oppressive and sexist Magisterium. Faith’s thirst for knowledge and passion for natural science recall the academia of Jordan College

The Huntress: Sea by Sarah Driver

Mouse’s icy cold, perilous adventure is similar to the one Lyra embarks on when she journeys North to rescue the children taken by the Gobblers in His Dark Materials. The delicious description of fur cloaks, golden eggs and heavy wooden treasure chests evoke the golden-coloured Tokay wine and the Sky-iron armour used by the Armoured Bears in Pullman’s series.

Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond

This eerie, dreamlike story is rich in mining history and is haunted by the ghosts of children who perished underground. The characters’ fascination with death and those who have left the living world remind us of Lyra’s visit to the world of the dead. Just like Pullman’s writing, this story can be incredibly dark until suddenly the light shines through.

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

This is the first in a series that emits the same magic as many of Pullman’s works and follows the main characters as they travel between different worlds. The innocent love story between Meggie and Farid and the eventual, subtle hints at a sexual awakening are similar to the relationship shared by Lyra and Will.

The White Hare by Michael Fishwick

white-hare

The one who doesn’t go straight home, the traitor,

The friendless one, the cat of the wood…’

A lost boy. A dead girl, and one who is left behind.

Robbie doesn’t want anything more to do with death, but life in a village full of whispers and secrets can’t make things the way they were.

When the white hare appears, magical and fleet in the silvery moonlight, she leads them all into a legend, a chase, a hunt. But who is the hunter and who the hunted?

In The White Hare, Michael Fishwick deftly mingles a coming-of-age story with mystery, myth and summer hauntings.

The White Hare by Michael Fishwick was the launch title for Head of Zeus’s new children’s imprint Zephyr. The protagonist is Robbie, who has just moved with his step-family to the rural village where his dad grew up and is grieving for his mother who recently died of cancer. With a tendency to start fires to deal with his anger, the atmosphere at home is tense and Robbie’s relationship with his father is slowly breaking down. Lonely, Robbie is grateful for his new friend Mags, who shows him the hills and the woods and the hollow caves of his new home. “That’s  the way it was with Mags. She put out his fires.”

A spooky page-turner, this novel interweaves a ghost story with vivid descriptions of the British countryside and ancient legends of a white hare. Folklore is taken very seriously in the village, which is alight with rumours that a white hare has appeared- said to be the spirit of a person who killed herself and who has now returned to take the life of her lover.

The book gets darker as the mystery of the white hare and Mags’ secret are revealed, dealing with both suicide and bullying. However, it is by no means depressive and beautifully captures the pain of a confused teenage boy and his healing process. I never felt that I could fully grasp what this book was about as it was very elusive and I can see how this could become frustrating for some readers. That said, the further along I got the more the suspense built up and more than once I felt a chill run down my spine.

I would recommend this haunting tale, especially to those who appreciate hare mythology and the ruthlessness of nature.