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Review: The Mercies

The Mercies book cover

Title: The Mercies
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Count: 336
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Date Published: February 11, 2020
You can find it here: Bookshop.org


Christmas Eve, the Arctic island of Vardo, Norway, 1617. Maren Magnusdatter and the women of Vardo helplessly watch as a storm off the coast of their small island claims the life of 40 of their menfolk in the blink of an eye.

Now reliant on themselves for survival, these women must band together to hunt, fish, and fend for themselves.

Three years later, word of these “unholy” women reaches Scotland and commissioner Absalom Cornet, a known witch hunter, is dispatched with his wife Ursa to bring back authority and order to these godless women. While Ursa is in awe of the island of women, Absalom sees nothing but sin. As Maren and Ursa continue to form a strong friendship, Absalom’s iron rule threatens the very existence of Vardo and all its inhabitants.

Based on the real storm of Vardo, 1617 and subsequent witch trials, The Mercies is a haunting story of love and evil.

Overall Thoughts

Undoubtedly, a most beautifully written story by a supremely talented writer, The Mercies is a quietly captivating novel wrote with such an incredible sense of knowledge of the time period, a decadent, languid sentence structure, and the ability to capture an atmosphere without falling into overtly purple prose. A sense of immediacy and quietly palpable tension is expertly crafted with the passing of every page as you continue to know and root for these characters, but all the time knowing of their ultimate doom. The characters are fantastically vivid, the atmosphere is lushly created, the writing is superb, but it is the emotional gut punch that will leave you reeling. I know it has for me. Did the abhorrent, brutal, nausea-inducing scenes need to happen? … yeah, I think they did. It brought forth an honesty and depth to the story that would’ve truly suffered for the lack of it … but did it make it an exceptionally hard read? Hell, yes. If you can stomach it, this read will mesmerize and haunt you … but if you are a sensitive reader I’d highly recommend seeking out the content warnings.

Content warnings: sexual violence, forced marriage, extreme brutality, spousal abuse, sexual violence and torture of a child, torture, execution through burning and hanging

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