The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

“Last night Maren dreamt a whale beached itself on the rocks outside her house.”

On Christmas Eve in 1617, almost the entire male population of the tiny fishing village of Vardo, Norway, is lost in a terrible storm. Left behind in grief, the women of the village have to find a new way to survive.

Eighteen months later, their fragile new order faces a terrible threat in the form of Absalom Cornet, a Scottish witchfinder. His religious fervour has no place for independent women, and the horrors of the storm will seem like a mercy compared to what’s ahead…

This is a beautifully written, wonderfully evocative piece of writing. The author captures so much of the lives and hardships, the fear and jealousy, and unexpected passions. However, even though I was engrossed, this is far from an easy read. It is deeply unsettling – as it should be, given that it’s based on real events. History was rarely kind, and this is some of the worst: women deemed ‘unnatural’ for stepping into so-called men’s roles, forced to for survival and damned for it anyway. The horror of the ‘righteous’ and their wielding of power.

And so, while I praise the writing, I can’t wholly recommend the read: it’s dark, it’s terrifying. Hopefully not too much of a spoiler, but I’d hoped for more of a sense of redemption, somehow. Overall: powerful, but not a little upsetting.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 40 chapters
First published: February 2020
Series: none
Read from 26th January – 3rd February 2020

My rating: 8/10

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