Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the sea break into a sudden and reckless storm. Forty fishermen, including her brother and father, are drowned and left broken on the rocks below. With the menfolk wiped out, the women of the tiny Arctic town of Vardø must fend for themselves.
Three years later, a sinister figure arrives. Absalom Cornet comes from Scotland, where he burned witches in the northern isles. He brings with him his young Norwegian wife, Ursa, who is both heady with her husband’s authority and terrified by it. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa sees something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil.
As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom’s iron rule threatening Vardø’s very existence.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, The Mercies is a story of love, evil, and obsession, set at the edge of civilization.
Warning this review will contain spoilers and is going to be blunt.
I did not enjoy this book, it was boring in parts and had awful pacing, but most of all I found the ending so deeply problematic. I have been trying to push my boundaries some, crawl out of my young adult fantasy hole. Especially around historical fiction, as it used to be a genre I adored. This book though was so many of the bad tropes about historical fiction I dislike. Stilted writing trying to mimic that of works from the time, slow pacing and then an abrupt and quick-paced finale that generally left me feeling like I was missing a few chapters.
All that said I did enjoy rather a few good sections of this book, and at the halfway point it was a 3-star book. Things declined very rapidly mostly due to the pacing. Suddenly everything slowed to a snail’s pace as we watch Marena and Ursa navigate their feeling which happened upon first sight somehow but with no chemistry? Again not something I would really have issues with until we get to the final few chapters.
Our two main characters finally consummate their feelings for each other and they are both punished for this, by the author. This is where I threw the book so hard across the room I nearly dented the wall. One character is left with her abusive husband’s baby inside her, while the other throws herself from a cliff. This was a choice the author made in 2020 to punish the queer women in her book as if it was still 1950.
In all of this, we get no more social commentary than any other book about the various witch trials. It’s been 24 hours since I finished this book and I am still so angry that I want to cry.
A Review Copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.
I give The Mercies:
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was published 6 February 2020 by Picador. You can purchase your own copy at Mighty Ape, Whitcoulls, Booktopia, Unity Books, Pan Macmillan Aus or wherever you like to purchase books.