The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication Date:
Length: 352 pages
Historical Fiction | Gothic

CW: n/a

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.



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. 

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.

Published by

4 thoughts on “The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s