Travel with the Circus Excalibur in a Dreamy, Watery World in 'The Gracekeepers'

Travel with the Circus Excalibur in a Dreamy, Watery World in 'The Gracekeepers'

Thursday, 11 March, 2021

The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.

This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.


This weekend, allow yourself to be whisked away to a dreamy world, much like our own. A world in which the waters have risen and drowned the continents. All that remains are scattered archipelagos, controlled by the military and patrolled by conservative Revivalist ships. And sometimes visited by the dazzling Circus Excalibur.

There’s tension between the privileged few who live on the land — the landlockers — and the rest of the population — the damplings — forced to live on boats, forever afloat and subject to the ebb and flow of the sea. It’s against this dramatic background that the touching, all-too-human drama plays out.

Our heroine is a young girl named North. She tragically lost her parents, and now her closest companion is the trained bear with whom she performs in the circus. But it’s an uneasy alliance. She’s devoted to her bear, but he is a beast, after all.

The found family of the circus is both her haven and a challenge. The other performers’ personalities are as colorful as their costumes, and old resentments — and wishes for a different future — run deep.

We also meet Callanish, a gracekeeper. It’s her job to lay the dead to rest in their watery graves, and she lives in self-exile — surrounded by the birdcages of her graces — after her own family catastrophe.

This atmospheric tale traces the paths of these two women — one in the vibrant world of the circus, the other all alone in the blues and greens of the water — and eventually, they intersect, with results that ripple through the other characters in the story.

The narrative unfurls through lovely prose and gorgeous imagery: a ship’s sails transformed into a circus tent, a ring of delicate birdcages amid the slate-blue ocean, a small girl snuggled into the side of a warm bear. Gauzy and melancholy, this is a story of yearning, grief, regret, and, ultimately, the power of hope and love to redeem us in even the most fraught circumstances.

‘Behold, the brave and wondrous performers of the Circus Excalibur, marvels of acrobatics and the taming of the most dangerous beasts.’ First came an elegant man… with feathers in his long hair and colored streaks across his cheeks. ‘My son, Ainsel, lord of the horses. Even the most jaded of audiences are struck dumb by the poise and bravery of his horseback skills.’ Next came three uniformly beautiful men, with hair dyed various shades of pink… ‘And here are Teal, Cyan and Mauve, our glamours. They can seduce a crowd of hundreds with their dances around the maypole.’… Jostling up against the pink-haired men came three gangling, shifting women. They had their sleeves rolled up, displaying tattooed designs on their forearms: one gray-shaded bones, as if her insides were outside; one a constellation of pale stars on a blue background; one a mass of color that looked like layers of birds’ wings in flight. — Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers

by Kirsty Logan

This literary fairy tale (320 pages) was published in May of 2015 by Crown. The book takes you to a circus floating on the sea. Melissa read The Gracekeepers and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it. is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.

The Gracekeepers


Top image courtesy of Krisjanis Mezulis/Unsplash.

Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!

keep reading

The circus is an enchanted place where people can fly and a big red nose is a happy sight. Where the smell of popcorn and peanuts mingles with sawdust. Where the unimaginable becomes completely possible before our eyes.
The enticing aroma and salty-sweet crunch of caramel popcorn is literally the taste of the circus. You can easily make a batch in about half an hour — plenty of time to escape into the magic of 'The Night Circus.'
If you've ever daydreamed about running away with the circus, this post is for you. Take a dazzling virtual tour of the world with these circuses from Canada to Europe, Africa to Australia, and everywhere in between.
This weekend, time travel to a 1920s Texas circus: Pontilliar's Spectacular Star Light Miraculum. Step right up to meet Ruby, the tattooed snake charmer who'll steal your heart while she saves the world.
This weekend, escape to turn-of-the-century New York and meet two unlikely new friends: a Jewish golem from Poland and an Arab jin from Egypt. Their history divides them; their adventures will bring them together.
You might not expect a story of kidnap and pirates to put tears in your eyes and wings on your heart. But you've likely never met pirates like Mad Hannah Mabot and her sometimes surly and surprisingly sensitive crew.

sharing is caring!

Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter

Join our Substack to get our FREE newsletter with podcast updates and behind-the-scenes info join in fun chats about books and travel.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
Sign up for our free Substack!
follow us

Content on this site is ©2024 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.