By Kirsty Logan
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars
‘The magical story of a floating circus and two young women in search of a home.
The sea has flooded the earth. North lives on a circus boat, floating between the scattered islands that remain. She dances with her beloved bear, while the rest of the crew trade dazzling and death-defying feats for food from the islanders. However, North has a secret that could capsize her life with the circus.
Callanish lives alone in her house in the middle of the ocean, with only the birds and the fish for company. As penance for a terrible mistake, she works as a gracekeeper, tending the graves of those who die at sea. What drove her from home is also what pulls her towards North.
When a storm creates a chance meeting between the two girls, their worlds change. They are magnetically drawn to one another, and the promise of a new life. But the waters are treacherous, and the tide is against them…’
A very nearly perfect novel.
Logan’s prose is lyrical and evocative. She smoothly reels us into a water-soaked world, where stepping on land is a privilege that few can afford. The paths of our characters cross on a pivotal night in their early lives, before the main events of the story begin. North – a Dampling – has lived her whole life at sea and loathes stepping on land, whereas Callanish – a Clam – was born into a privileged landed family but now lives the secluded life of a Gracekeeper tending Dampling graves. I think you can guess from this brief description, but one of the best aspects of Logan’s prose is her world-building and she has some wonderful names for things, ‘Dampling’ being a prime example. I love that she doesn’t fully explain things. We move through the world with only a partial view of it – enough to follow North and Callanish, but without lots of exposition. That said I would have liked a little more explanation around one subject in particular, related to North’s secret.
Logan deftly develops the world’s own unique prejudices and a complicated caste system, not just land vs. water but various subdivisions in both. Our two protagonists exist in a strange borderland between the safety of the islands and the uncertainty of the sea. North works for a travelling (should that be sailing?) circus, performing extraordinary feats with her dancing bear, stepping on land only to perform for the islanders who are both fascinated and horrified by them. Callanish, in her position of Gracekeeper, has a tiny island of her own, but this is attached to the watery graves of the Damplings which she tends.
I adore Logan’s circus, the chaos wrought by the clowns, the mysterious rituals of the beauties, the way it manages to be both political and subversive, enthralling and eerie. The ambiguity of gender and the blurring of lines represented by the circus is something which the circus-folk play up or down depending on their audience. It’s also something intrinsic within the circus-folk who are every bit as intriguing as our main characters.
Now, as to why it is not quite perfect. The ending is largely to blame for this I think, as I felt like it was building towards something more and it seemed to be over very quickly. I had to re-read it a couple of times so that I knew what was going on. I got sucked into the story very easily but the pace doesn’t quite keep up. That’s not quite right, less pace and more…intrigue I suppose. North and Callanish are both girls with secrets, neither of which I’m going to reveal here. Needless to say there are two that we find out early on and North’s in particular is brilliant. However, it is the second of Callanish’s secrets that disappointed me a bit. This is largely my own fault as I thought it was something different and was disappointed when it wasn’t.
Despite this it is still very, very nearly perfect. Not just in story, but in design – its very rare that you see a book that is this beautiful under the book jacket (don’t peak! Keep the surprise until the end).