This review was written by: H
Received: ARC from Publisher
Publication Date of Book: May 2015
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
“Little islands are all large prisons; one cannot look at the sea without wishing for the wings of a swallow.”
~Richard Francis Burton
SummaryThe oceans have risen and there is barely enough land for even a handful of the population to live on. As a result, most people live on ships while religious and military fanatics live on land. Land is very expensive and only sold to those willing to give up their claims to the sea. The book follows the story of two young women. The first is named North. She has grown up as part of a traveling circus. Her job is to take part in the bear act every time this ragged group of individuals docks on another island. She does not understand the land people and their mysterious ways of life, as the sea is all she has ever known. As the fiancé to the captain’s son, she is expected to live on land once they are married, which is something she absolutely refuses to do, even though the captain threatens the life of her bear and herself if she does not comply.
The second main protagonist is Callanish, who committed a crime when she was much younger, leading to her eventual job as a gracekeeper. Gracekeepers are responsible for burying all the dead at sea. She is haunted by what she did, and seeks to redeem herself in the eyes of her mother for being who she is and for what she did, for Callanish was born with webbed feet and hands. These abnormalities needed to be covered up her entire life in order to prevent her mother from publicly experiencing the shame and truth that Callanish was not her father’s child, but that of another, more mysterious “man.”
Will Callanish be able to redeem herself in her mother’s eyes, or will she be forced to accept her role as gracekeeper and live the rest of her days in solitude on her own island? Will North be forced to give up her bear, the only remaining family she has, or will she able to find freedom on the wide-open seas?
My ThoughtsThis was one of the weirdest books I have ever read, but in a good kind of way. It was actually quite beautifully written, with amazing descriptions that allowed me to visibly see in my mind’s eye what was going on, especially concerning the strange, dystopian world that these two characters live in. I found the religious fanatics to be especially disturbing, as they supposedly buried a child alive who was born with webbed fingers. These peculiar individuals also worship trees, as they are one of the oldest and most stagnant things left in the world. This is one of the main reasons that I marked this book with such a low rating. If I could have avoided this portion of the story, I would have enjoyed the book much more, but I understand why the author included such imagery in order to show just how messed up the world had become. Reading this book, I was very curious as to what exactly Callanish did in order to be forced into the position of gracekeeper, but it was never explicitly stated. I was quite annoyed by this, especially after I got to the end of the book and it was only alluded to.
Overall, I thought that this book was very thought provoking and positively interesting. It was much more depressing than I had originally anticipated, but I was glad that most things worked out in the end, especially concerning North, who was an extremely strong female lead. For a debut novel, this is very original and well written, even though I did not particularly love it. The atmosphere of the novel was dark, with the two main characters being the beacons of hope that most other characters relied on. I found the “mermen” to be an interesting element, especially concerning how wonderfully it connected both North and Callanish. I would recommend this book to those who love dystopian or post-apocalyptic stories with heart, specifically those who enjoy reading novels that make them think.
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