Book Review

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I thought that this dark story would be a great one for me to kick off October with and I was right. Not only was the story haunting because of the way it was written, but even more so because it is based off of actual witch trials that took place in history. 

The Mercies begins in Finnmark in 1617 when a sudden, powerful storm occurs at sea which leaves forty fishermen dead and the small town of Vardø without any men. After surviving for three years on their own, one day they are appointed a commissioner, a Scottish man called Absalom Cornet who brings his Norwegian wife, Ursa. Not only does he have a reputation as a man of God but of a fearsome witch hunter too. Upon arriving in Vardø his wife is fascinated to see a place where women have thrived alone, whereas Absalom only sees evil thriving and a worrying absence of God. 

There are two protagonists of this novel of Maren and Ursa. Maren who has lived in Vardø her entire life, who lost her father, her brother and her fiancé in the storm. Ursa who has lived a very different life in Norway, as the daughter of a shipowner and the carer for her ill 13-year-old sister until she is told she will marry Absalom. Both protagonists were so interesting and well developed and I found myself wanting the best for the both of them. Maren does what she can to support her family and the town when the men are gone. Whilst Ursa does what she can to protect her new friends from her husband and the members of the community that have already taken to him. Whilst Absalom is more in the background compared to the women, Hargrave does a brilliant job of making him unsettling with only his short appearances. 

I loved the way that the novel was written, it had such a haunting and lyrical quality to it which really complemented the content of the novel. It had a very gothic feel to it and is a perfect read for this time of year! This novel explores the lives of different women in a very different town, during a time of horrific witch trials. It was fascinating to see how they all lived and how the smallest thing could put them in danger of being tried as a witch. There were many moments where I was so frustrated that the women were being treated like this, not only in this novel but the fact this type of thing actually happened and real women would have also died due to other people’s jealousy, pettiness and fear. 

This is a wonderful novel and has me excited to see more adult fiction come from Hargrave in the future. I highly recommend you pick this novel up, regardless of the time of year! It’s also made me want to do my own research into witch trials, as reading this novel made me realise that whilst I know these things took place I know very little regarding what actually happened. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.
www.blackwells.co.uk

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