The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
The Mercies Review
Even starting this review, my emotions were tumultuous. I LOVED The Mercies and putting that love into words was not easy. I’m trying to cobble something together from the notes I made, even though most of them are just me going ‘it’s so beautiful. Incredible. Amazing. Beautiful.’ Not especially helpful, but if you want some escapism during quarantine into a standalone fantasy with a historical element, this is the book for you!
On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardo is thrown into a reckless storm. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen, including her father and brother, are lost to the waves, the menfolk of Vardo wiped out in an instant.
Now the women must fend for themselves.
Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilized world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of Vardo to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In Vardo, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty and terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardo storm and the 1621 witch trials, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and a love that may prove as dangerous as it is powerful.
The Mercies is told in present tense from two viewpoints, Ursa and Maren. I found that I liked both viewpoints equally, possibly with a slight leaning towards Maren. Such tension was built between them from the very first time Maren set eyes upon Ursa, and each worried the other would look down on them for their ways. All the characters in The Mercies are fascinating, the way they group and then break apart, swirling like the currents of the ever-present tide. I was completely drawn up into Ursa and Maren’s relationship, the way they felt and thought about everything so intensely illustrated.
The Mercies would not be what it is without its incredible setting of Vardo, Finnmark. It is so isolated, far from what some would consider civilisation. Kiran Millwood Hargrave beautifully evokes the freedom and fear and danger of the sea, surrounding this community who rely upon one another closely. The little details of the scenery are woven in seamlessly amongst the sea, cliffs, heather, houses and sky immersing the reader in this enchanting tale.
The Mercies is elegantly and lyrically written, emotive and full of desperation, reaching a feverish intensity as the cracks in the community widen and the line between religion and superstition is drawn by the arrival of a man. I forgot everything briefly as I was completely absorbed by the danger brewing on Vardo, thrilled by the atmosphere right from its intense beginning. I adored the ending and it is the perfect atmospheric standalone novel. Absolutely spellbinding.
Would I survive? Absolutely not. I get very, very seasick.
Herself, lost inside his name.Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Mercies