Once upon a time the world was a big, endless ocean. There were only a few islands left, from the old world as we know it. The people who lived on those islands, the landlockers, were privileged compared to the ones that lived on boats, the damplings. Besides they were afraid of each other, they worshiped different gods and they rarely associated. The cases where a landlocker fell in love with a dampling and chose the sea were scarce. In fact, the people of the land considered the sea cursed and those of the sea felt unsteady on the steady land.
That was the way of the world where two girls, worlds a far from one another, grew up and tried to find what it means to be home. North was born and raised on the sea, making her living as a bear dancer in a circus. Her bear was her only true companion, the one who understood her and turned to keep herself calm during the nights. But she carries a secret that puts her position in the circus in danger, a baby that grows inside of her. On the contrary, Callanish was a landlocker. She was born with some physical peculiarities that connected her to North's baby and for that reason she was always wearing gloves and slippers. A terrible mistake, more likely a normal reaction for a small girl, made her leave her home island and she became a gracekeeper, the one that performed a resting for those who died at sea. The two girls met briefly but connected in a special way. This connection filled both of them with the hope that they can find the home they both longed for and a new beginning.
The story is relatively slow paced, although in the last ten chapters it speeds up. This fact though doesn't make the story less compelling. From the beginning you want to get closer to the characters, reveal their secrets and see them find what they've been looking for. The narrative, being from different points of view, allows you both to understand the way of thinking of each character and the way he behaves as seen from an observer.
The characters are all well developed. North and Callanish are so likeable that you almost feel like you have known them for a very long time. Their hopes and their disappointments become your own. I really like the way that each character's motive is revealed, not only those of the two young women, but of the people surrounding them as well. Avalon, the wife of the ringmaster and the one that hates North, is one of the most complex characters in this book. In a way, you can even say that she is a tragic one too. Although in the end she gets what she wanted from the beginning, you never get the feeling of closure. The only thing is that I'd like to see more of the bear, to have a little more active role as the book processed.
What I really love about this novel, and it actually surprised me, is its theme. To find where you belong, the place you can call home and feel most comfortable in, is something that all of the characters desire. There are those that think they have found it, those who have lost it, and those that are on the way of obtaining it. This is not an easy journey and the obstacles are big because it's so easy to confuse what you really need with that you think that you need. Callanish is one of the characters that fall in this trap and is bitterly disappointed by the reality.
No one would ever know what happened out there. Such small crimes.
I would recommend The Gracekeepers to anyone. I really enjoyed reading it and I basically couldn't put it down. I found this novel refreshing, well written with a fairytale-like feel. Don't expect a story filled with action, except for the climax which is pretty intense. The characters and the theme are what makes is worth the while.
So my advice is...
Sail the world through its pages.
I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange of an honest review.