"The Grace Keepers" is "Scottish magical realism" according to the author. I would describe it as a subset of sci-fi, "humans on earth moved far into a dystopian future." It follows a carnival worker named North and a funeral director named Callanish as they cope with a world almost entirely covered in water. It includes themes of: evolutionary development; the interactions of environment and religion, especially in regards to scarcity; relationships between humans and animals; sex as currency; gender as performance.
I most enjoyed the multifaceted way the author approached the change of culture that would arise from such a shift in environment. The connectedness and yet cliquishness of the carnival workers, the worship of that which is scarce while degrading and avoiding that which is plentiful, the refusal to accept nature's offerings in favor of continuing the way things have always been -- these all rang true to human nature. I also enjoyed the weird mix of beauty and horror in the carnival and in grace-keeping.
Content note: possible triggers are the threat of rape (not carried out) in the minds of some characters. I was tense expecting it, but it did not happen. Also, abuse to animals happens throughout.
Characters: The characters are all cis, all white, nearly all non-disabled, nearly all straight. The main characters consist of: a ship-dwelling carnival woman (North), a land-dwelling funeral director woman (Callanish), a messenger man, an over-the-top jealous pregnant woman, a woman who has dementia, and two men (ringmaster and son) who see women as objects. The minor characters are interesting but not distinguishable from each other. The only characters who have depth are North, Callanish, and to some extent the messenger man. While class is certainly part of the story, it seems to exist externally to the characters, as none of them apply stereotypes individually. I felt that the story was very plot-driven, and not enough attention was paid to developing the characters. I did like that gender did not interfere with love, but I didn't feel that that was supported in the culture of the book. If it was taboo, the characters should have had turmoil or fear about it, and if it wasn't taboo, then the carnival wouldn't have used it as part of their show.
Imagination: Concepts I hadn't seen before included the performance of gender as a paid job (but I was disappointed that this was not developed to make sense within the world culture), and the use of ritual to limit mourning periods in a world that faces too much death. Many of the interesting concepts were just not well-developed enough for me, such as the clash between revivalist and pagan traditions. I felt the revivalists would surely create a myth of the waters receding if enough people 'came back to god.' I mean, they had a flood myth already, it seems really obvious. And I would think that the pagans would worship the sea as much as the land, and give extra honor to people born with traits that could enable them to live in water. I feel like not enough research on the source religions was done.
Plot: the plot was the best element of this novel. I was intensely curious as to why Callenish felt so guilty, and also as to how North would escape a fate that seemed to be closing in. I read the last 75% of it in one sitting.
Setting: this is set on a future earth which is almost entirely covered in water. Most people live on ships, and the primary class difference is between those who live on land and those who live at sea. Somehow, everyone is white.
Point of view: 3rd person, usually watching North or Callanish but occasionally other people.
Dialogue: There's significantly more description than dialogue. The dialogue passes the Bechdel test easily, and tone is varied from person to person. I would say that the variety in speech patterns is about average: neither notably too-similar nor notably unique.
Writing style: somehow both rich and spare. Rather than multiple lines of description, the author layers description into the action. I found it less evocative than some but very effective nonetheless. It gave less of a visual image but more of a sense of mood.
Length, cover: 308 pages in hardcover. The cover pictures a thin white woman walking among birdcages that are floating in water with a foggy background: the image is mysterious and to me, implies endless repetition and a sense of hopelessness. I'd take from the image that the audience is meant to be people who like the surreal and thoughtful. The summary on the inside jacket sketches a quick image of the lives of the two main characters and describes the story as their quest to end their loneliness.
Author: Kirsty Logan, 29-year-old white (seemingly non-disabled & cisgender) queer Scottish woman. This is her first full-length novel. She describes herself as a professional daydreamer, studied creative writing at university, and works as a literary editor as well as writing.
Context of this reviewer: White, afab, genderfree, trans, queer, non-disabled, poly, add-pi neurodivergent, poor, intersectional feminist, age 32, from southern US.
I received a free copy of this book from BloggingForBooks in exchange for my unbiased review. Also posted on amazon: fascinating plot, great concept, underdeveloped world-building.