Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

My historical fiction kick is not over. No. Not at all. In fact, I am expanding. No more am I stuck to Western Europe. Nope! I found a book set in Norway/Denmark. In the 1600’s. There were witch trials and a lot of death. It was great.

I also spent a lot of time on wikipedia trying to figure out where things were happening, what was fact vs fiction. You know, completely normal things. I can’t be the only one that didn’t know there were Witch Trials in Norway…Right?

Let me backup. The Mercies is a story about a community of women from Finnmark. On Christmas Eve of 1617 the men of a small village go out to sea. In a flash of a storm they are all gone. Among those left behind is Maren, who we follow as her entire world is set adrift by the loss of her brother, her father, and her betrothed. With her community of survivors Maren finds new meaning in her life, until a new commissioner from Scotland arrives with his endearing wife, Ursa. 

At heart The Mercies is a story about the things we don’t like to see women do. It is a powerful narrative about fear and empowerment,friendship and love, and most of all loss. The theme of loss is so prevalent there is barely a page where it is not felt. Hargraves prose is crisp and her characters believable. 

If anything I wish The Mercies had been a bit longer. There are many threads to this story, and some of the more interesting, that of the Sami population, the trails themselves, and Ursa’s growing competence as a housewife all could have soared with a few extra pages. 

Overall this The Mercies is one of my favorite reads of early 2020. It expands upon an area and era rarely tackled in popular fiction, gives voices to women, and paints a striking picture of community and prejudice.

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