That’s what I feel about this book. I had such high hopes. I love reading about possible futures for the Earth and I love seeing an author’s view of how humanity will adapt. This book was no exception. The idea of an Earth almost completely covered in water is intriguing. Unfortunately, that’s about the only thing that intrigued me. The book is told from multiple viewpoints and is mostly about North and the group of circus performers that she travels with. As Damplings, they live on the water and earn money and food by performing for the Landlockers. Along the way, she meets Callanish, a Landlocker who lives by herself performing burial rituals for the dead. Sometimes multiple viewpoints can enhance a story by showing the reader a more complete picture of the world or circumstances. In this case, all it did was keep me feeling very disconnected from all of the characters. I never really felt anything for any of them. Callanish is lonely and North is lonely and the poor Bear is lonely and they are all trapped by their circumstances…and so what. I didn’t feel bad for any of them. I wasn’t rooting for any of them – except maybe the poor bear.
There wasn’t really much of a plot, either. I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing ever really did. We’re just strung along watching life happen to these people. There are a couple of more exciting and sad scenes, but even these didn’t really sway me much because I had such a disconnect with these characters. I didn’t feel as sad as I think I should have and I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at any time during my reading. Granted, that may not have been what the author was going for anyway, but even if a book isn’t exciting, I expect to feel something and I just didn’t.
There were also parts of this world and social structure and customs that I just didn’t understand. Why is everyone so hungry all the time? The sea is full of fish and plants and other creatures, yet everyone is always hungry all the time. I don’t get it. I also didn’t get why the Landlockers held such sway. It’s a mark of your superior status to own land in a world where land is so scarce, but that would mean that there are many many more Damplings. I would think there would be a huge black market and a lot of piracy in a world such as this. The burial traditions include caging a bird – a Graceling – and letting is starve to death. When the bird dies, the period of mourning is over. Where do these birds come from? Callanish worries about leaving her post and doing things properly but who is she afraid of? We’re never introduced to a governing body or any type of authority other than the soldiers who are called to arrest people. Who gives them their orders? Is there a council, a governor, a king…what?
Overall, I didn’t hate this. There are some really interesting concepts and I didn’t dislike it enough to stop reading it. I finished but felt unfulfilled. I’m sad about that because I love the idea of an Earth covered in water and humanity starting to evolve to its new circumstances. However, there were just too many holes and a lack of character depth and plot that left me feeling very blah about this book. For those of you wondering, this book is definitely more Literary than Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Also, just a comment about the comparisons to The Night Circus. I loved The Night Circus and it does share a certain dream-like quality with The Gracekeepers so I can understand the comparison, however, this book just fell flat for me while The Night Circus was so rich in character and atmosphere. This book is worth a look, though, if you like that kind of surreal writing.