Sunday 23 February 2020

Book Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Historical Fiction)

Title: The Mercies
Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Picador - Pan Macmillan Australia

Publication Date: 17 February 2020
Historical Fiction
ARC from Publisher


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. 

The Mercies is an intriguing and engaging read. I loved the story premise, and both Maren and Ursa come across well as characters. The focus of the book is on the women, so we don't see much in the way of background motivation and thought processes from the men, which does make them feel like 2D villains here and there, but not so much it spoilt my enjoyment of the story. The sense of time and place are nicely established without bogging the book in historical detail, and overall the prose flowed well, making this a quick and easy read. It's not a book I fell in love with to the extent I'd wish to keep a copy forever on my shelf to reread, but it was a pleasing story that I am glad I got to read once. I am giving The Mercies four stars. It is a book sure to please historical fiction fans, especially those looking for works with a strong female focus and/or LGTB content.

I received this book as a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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