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Excerpt from The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Gracekeepers

by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan X
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
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  • Published:
    May 2015, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sharry Wright
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CHAPTER 1
North

Behindcurtains, North and her bear waited. Their cue wouldn't come for a while yet. The air back here was still chilly, though the smell of sweat and soil was getting stronger. North never felt comfortable with her feet touching land. She didn't trust its steadiness, its refusal to move or change in the honest way of the sea. The landlockers hadn't given the circus much room on their island--it was small, north-west, not a capital--and behindcurtains was a narrow space.

The damp hem of the curtains huddled around her ankles as she pressed her face to her bear's chest, breathing in his musty smell, hearing the beginnings of a growl within him. She reached her hand to his nose and tapped it, as a warning for him to stay silent. Their show today would be uncomplicated: North and her bear would dance, they would kiss, they would bow to the crowd. Simple. Or as simple as anything can be in a circus.

Out on stage, the rest of the circus folk were performing the maypole, everything wrapped in ribbons: the pole, their hair, their bodies, all wrapped tight so the crowd couldn't tell which were girls and which were boys, so they were all girlboygirls. The ribbons were dyed bright with ground-up shells and seaweed, streaking color on to their bare skin.

North's bear was not bright. He was brown as wood and he was patterned a little like wood too, whorls of lighter fur among the dark. To match his fur, North's dark hair was tied up in loops and her pale body was draped in brown fabric. She had to match his golden chains, too, so she had dyed strands of her hair gold and woven them into braids. North stroked her hands along her bear's broad neck in swoops, keeping rhythm with his breath. It was important to calm him before a performance, to show him that she was on his side, to get him used to his chains all over again. Bears are harder to train than dogs or horses or any other animals, because they're vicious and have faulty memories. North was like that too, or at least that's what Avalon, the ringmaster's wife, said.

As if summoned by the thought, Avalon slid out from behind a wedge of curtain. She had a sprig of apple blossom tucked behind her ear, its petals velvety as her cheek. North had never seen fresh flowers before Avalon started wearing them in her hair.

"Darling urchin," she purred. She tossed an object from hand to hand as she spoke, smooth as juggling. "Is your mangy beast ready to terrify the children?"

But North did not hear a word. She stared, hypnotized, at the object passing between Avalon's hands. The apple was a perfect sphere, green speckled with red, shiny as a bird's eye. Avalon pulled a silver knife from her dress pocket and cut the apple's softening flesh into quarters, exposing the pips tenderly. Its scent exploded in the air: sweetly souring, past its best but still with a sheen of juice. She didn't know how much apples cost, but it was certainly worth weeks of the circus crew's dinners. North inhaled as deeply as she could.

Avalon ate a slice from the knife's blade, pips and stem and all. Then another. Then she raised a third to her mouth, and, noticing North's gaze, paused.

"Oh, little wraith. You only have to ask, you know. Would you like a piece?"

North tried to speak, but she'd spent all afternoon murmuring to the bear and her throat had tightened. She coughed.

"What was that?"

"Yes." North had to clench her jaw and swallow hard before she could force herself to add--"Please."

Avalon sighed, and someone who didn't know her might think that her regret was genuine. North knew better, and wished she hadn't said please.

"I am sorry, urchin. It's for the baby." Avalon cupped her belly maternally and chewed the third quarter of the apple. For the baby, for the baby. In the few months since Avalon had announced her pregnancy, everything that happened in the circus was for the baby. North couldn't wait for the damned thing to be born--though Red Gold already had one pampered son, and he certainly didn't need another.

Reprinted from The Gracekeepers Copyright © 2015 by Kirsty Logan. To be published by Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on May 19, 2015.

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