I Volunteer as Dampling.

Some little girls want to be veterinarians, some want to ride their bikes down the highest neighborhood slope faster than the boys, some imagine themselves as princesses in far off castles that they’ve only seen in pop-out books, most often, I wanted to be a mermaid.

And I still do.

And sometimes I even believe in them. I said this like it’s a secret, it’s definitely not.  It’s a well-known fact among my friends that I believe in mermaids, their pale tranquil skin against the cave black of deep sea.  I never really imagined them with webbed hands and feet, but now that I’ve inserted that into my mermaid fantasy – like one inserts a face into their end of the aisle husband fantasy – I feel that this must be true.

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

And thus, The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan.  All fantasy and fire, The Gracekeepers has been one of the most inventive, meaningful and smooth books that I’ve read this year.  I felt a bit enlightened. I felt a bit sick, in the Margaret Atwood way.  And I felt a bit better about how animals might be treated in the circus.

But this isn’t a normal circus, no, the Excalibur, the setting for most of the novel, is a circus made of soft shell boats (I imagine to look a bit like clams with pearls – glamours – inside) and a girl with a bear.  The girl with the bear, North, is one of the main characters in the book as the reader follows her hidden pregnancy through a map of the sea.  North is a dampling meaning that she’s lived her life on the water, she was born on the water, and is expected to stay in her class of water-dwellers.  The earth has (probably due to climate change, Senator Jim Inhofe) become mostly water – melted polar ice caps and such – and now the land is sacred, and rich.  Although, Kirsty Logan never explains the background of the world becoming this way, I like the ease of which this doesn’t bother me at all as a reader, and I can see our world collapsing into this “stay in your place” mentality.  I mean, history is one big cycle, right?

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

Trees are not meant to be harmed.

Water filth are not much allowed to go past the dunes.

Half-breeds are buried alive at the tree (think Pocahontas without the grandmother’s face).

Damplings even have their own burial sites in the middle of the ocean, close to the equator which is where Callanish comes in (names are perfectly created in this novel).  Callanish is a landlocker that has left-off her family’s land due to an “incident” and has become a gracekeeper.  She is mostly alone with her thoughts and the birds that are forced to die as symbols for the dead, anchored to leftovers in the middle of a misted ocean.

Callanish was my second favorite character because she was so dynamic and so many people in one woman. She had a one night stand with a man who wouldn’t leave, she mails feathers, she wears debutante gloves on every occasion outside of her dock, and she is unafraid to wear lingerie on a revival boat.  Of course the character with the most lost would be the most badass.

Callanish performs Restings, the burial rites of dumplings, at the equator.  At first, I thought her life of isolation was something she just accepted without cost, but as the book progresses, the reader learns that Callanish is serving time for something that she believes her single mother will just not forgive.  Instead, Callanish uses her charm to survive a journey back to her roots in order to determine what can be forgiven and what, forgotten.

North and her bear, I imagine.  I didn't quite imagine North would have a 1920s bob, but I can work with it.

North and her bear, I imagine. I didn’t quite imagine North would have a 1920s bob, but I can work with it.

There are other characters, my favorite being the ring leader, Red Gold, because he is one of the most giving characters in current dystopian literature.  He is practically ready to sell his soul to the idea that he can rescue all damsels in distress.  He’s loud and boisterous on stage, but quiet and contemplative behind the mouth of the sails.  I find his relationship with North to be a pivotal turn in the father/daughter relationships of literature (he is not her real father, but his care towards her is one that beckons him the title).  North, meanwhile, has worked for him for most of her life as the bear-girl, and is unafraid to little-spoon with the bear at her backside every night in the soft given sheets of her clam nest.  She is protective of him as her secret-keeper, and waltzes with him on stage every evening.

This book is one of fantasy, which could easily fit into the vein of young adult or adult fiction.  I loathed Night Circus, but I imagine readers who fancied that book for more than just the cliche relationship, might like The Gracekeepers for its lack of cliche relationships.  Gracekeepers also establishes the relationship between two women as the most powerful a woman can have, which as a 3-5 pm everyday after school Sex & The City viewer, I believe this is truth.

Book Map, every reader loves a book with a map.

Book Map, every reader loves a book with a map.

I found that this book pushed the reader along its own current without stopping for the reader’s needs, but leaving a pinch of anxiety throughout.  I forever worried that the bear would be killed by the tragic, skinny-bitch wife of Red Gold.  And even on the ending of the book, I wanted to go for round two.  I do hope that this will turn into a series based on reader demands, or commenting too much on Kirsty Logan’s instagram page (yes, she has one, find it and request a sequel).

I did feel a bit towards the end that this was two stories that weren’t going to gel together, and I feel like it went on a little too long, I could have dealt without the revival boat.  I do have an inkling though that Logan used the revival boat with purpose (its giant Mary – mother of Jesus – sail crested on the side of the boat was enough to keep me interested because of course in dystopia, there are still religious fanatics).  I think she might be gearing up to use the revival boats more in the next book, at least … there better be a next book.

This is a great summer beach read, for a landlocker, or a dampling that finds herself most secure when she’s diving head first into the salt of an ocean wave.


2 thoughts on “I Volunteer as Dampling.

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this, it was an appealing concept right from the blurb and I think it worked really well. I agree about the revivalists, I wasn’t even sure how to mention them in my review, they didn’t really fit with the story for me, perhaps if there’d been some kind of encounter early on, it might have made better sense. So sad though, the bear.

    • Cassie says:

      I knew she mentioned them, but I thought it would have been just as fine if Callanish just jumped off the boat with the messenger or something and swam to shore. I really do feel like she’s setting up for a sequel with that though and one of the acrobats. On her Instagram, she mentioned researching bears and this was after The Gracekeepers came out so I wonder if there’s going to be more parts to it.


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