THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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. 


Title : The Mercies
Author : Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Format :
Page Count : 352
Genre : Historical Fiction
Publisher : Pan Macmillan
Release Date : February 6, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

THE MERCIES was all dark atmosphere, engaging story, conspiracies and foreboding. It required my total engagement from the first page and I gave it willingly. The writing was sublime and something special that it could take such a bleak context and turn it into such an exciting read.

Narrated from the POV of two very different young women, THE MERCIES told the story of a remote fishing village at the remotest tip of Norway. It started in the midst of a storm that wiped out the men on their boats, leaving the women of the village bereft, grieving and with a need to sustain themselves. The slow revealing of characters in the village was a strength to the storytelling, which was very much about trust and mistrust. Maren was a strong and vital young woman, caring for her family and village. They were Lutheran (I think) but they also kept some Sami traditions and rituals.

Time passed and with it, it brought a man tothe village. His purpose was to herald structure and Christian godliness back in the village, with him came his wife, Ursa, the second protagonist. She was weak and unused to hardship but she had character growth that was a great part of the story.

Remember the mistrust? What started as a rumble, became a full blown witch hunt in literal terms. The patriachy was in full throttle and the pack behaviour of some of the women had me wanting to disassociate myself with my gender. That said, I had all sorts of feelings and inner monologue about women knowing only patriarchy and how that affected them when all the men had gone. It was a mess, it was unsettling and then it was hideous.

Suffice it to say that this read gave me all the feelings, some good, many not. Some of the best reads are unsettling, make you feel extreme emotions and drop you at the end. I felt winded and rewarded. What a read, what a writer Kiran Millwood Hargrave is and please can I devour all her books now?

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