The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Rating: 4/5

What It’s About:

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Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter 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 Northern 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 pushed together and 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.

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The Review

The Mercies was one of those books that I read in just a few days. I read it almost any chance that I got! The setting of the book was very interesting because I haven’t read many books that take place in historical Norway. Hargrave did an amazing job with imagery and descriptions of the small fishing village in Finnmark. I felt like I was transported to another time and place. And I just LOVE that feeling! I had no idea that witch trials occured in Norway and the Sámi culture was also new to me.

The characters were complex and interesting to follow. The dialogue between the characters was so riveting that I was fully absorbed in the scenes. I felt so many of their emotions such as fear, grief, sadness, and jealousy. My favorite parts of the book involved moments of tension and conflict, which had me holding my breath until the moment passed.

Another thing that I liked was that the book features resilient women trying to survive in a male dominated world. The historical aspects of society, religion, and politics were skillfully woven into the story. The characters are forced to find the courage to continue on after the loss of their men, adjust to new town leadership, and deal with harsh laws that go against their ways of life.

Final Thoughts

Reading The Mercies was a gripping and emotional story. I loved that it was inspired by actual events in history. I love when historical fiction make real history come alive. Hargrave has another book coming out, The Dancing Tree, and I can’t wait to read it as well. This book reminded me of two books, The Exiles (review) and Hour of the Witch (review), which also tell incredible stories of marginalized women fighting to survive under harsh circumstances.

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Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought.

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