Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

 


Title: The Mercies

Author: Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Published: January 28th 2020, Pan Macmillan Australia

Status: Read January 2020, courtesy Pan Macmillan/Netgalley

++++++

My Thoughts:

The Mercies is a historical fiction novel from Kiran Millwood Hargrave, an award winning poet, playwright, and children’s author.

As Hargrave explains in a note, The Mercies is inspired by historical fact. In 1618 King Christian began a crusade to convert his subjects to his own religious persuasion and employed an enforcer to expose non-believers, particularly amongst the indigenous Sámi in Finnmark (Northern Norway). In all, fourteen Sámi men were executed, accused of sorcerery, but the Lensmann wasn’t satisfied with his remit, and over the next few years he was responsible for the trial, and execution of, 77 Norwegian women named as witches.

Hargrave begins her story in 1617 as a freak midwinter storm hits Vardø, Norway’s north-easternmost point, leaving the women of the island devastated as their fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons perish in the vicious squall. As the bodies of their men, dragged from the sea, lay shrouded awaiting spring’s arrival for burial, the womenfolk grieve, but once they are laid to rest they must confront their need for survival. Defying convention a small group take up the menfolk’s duties, among them twenty year old Maren Bergensdatter. For nearly three years the village manages in this way, led by Kirsten Sørensdatter, who also lost her husband.

The author skilfully evokes the isolated and harsh environment of Vardø, with its subarctic climate where the land is frozen solid during winter, and summer brings the midnight sun. The conditions in which the villagers live are generally basic, entire families live in one room huts, with fish, reindeer meat and potato bread providing the bulk of their diet, relying on infrequent opportunities for trade for additional resources.

All of the community attend church (kirke) weekly, but the beliefs of the indigenous Sámi have a place in the life of many. In the wake of the tragedy, with the absence of someone to blame for their misfortune, some women seek refuge in the teachings of the church, and their righteousness, born in part from the bitterness of grief, begins to divide the community. The arrival of Lensmann Absolom Cornet, an ambitious and pious Scotsman directed by the King to quash the ‘sorcery’ practiced by the Sámi, along with his new bride, Ursula, serves only to deepen the rift.

The Mercies unfolds from the perspectives of Maren and Ursula, both of whom are struggling with the changes in their lives. Maren, who lost her father, brother, and betrothed, must step up to support her widowed mother and pregnant sister-in-law who are consumed by their grief, and play peacemaker as the two women turn on each other. Ursula quickly discovers that her new husband is a prideful and often hateful man, and she is ill prepared for both the duties of a wife and life in Vardø. Despite their differences, the two young women unexpectedly find comfort in each other. Hargrave’s portrayal of their evolving friendship is achingly tender, and a counterpoint to the rising tension in both Ursula’s marriage and Maren’s community.

When it comes, the conclusion of The Mercies is powerful and devastating. Eloquent and beautifully crafted, this is a captivating novel about love, fear, obsession, and evil.

++++++

Available from PanMacmillan Australia

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Indiebound

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mystica
    Jan 28, 2020 @ 15:45:47

    An entertaining read for lovers of historical fiction. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. bookshelflife
    Jan 28, 2020 @ 19:49:01

    The cover is so beautiful!!!!!🙈 and the books sounds also really interesting. Definitely adding this book to my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. nualacharlie
    Jan 29, 2020 @ 02:06:15

    I am glad to see you had the same opinion about this one. I loved it (I have my review out in a week or so when it is published in the UK), it would not be a place or time I would want to live, that’s for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  4. Aj @ Read All The Things!
    Jan 29, 2020 @ 02:22:55

    I’m so excited for this one! I love historical books that are based on true stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  5. alisbooks
    Jan 29, 2020 @ 02:47:40

    This sounds really good! The “devastating” part scares me a bit, though. LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  6. Helen Murdoch
    Jan 29, 2020 @ 08:13:57

    I haven’t heard of this one, but it sounds interesting. It covers a topic I know nothing about.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  7. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction
    Feb 01, 2020 @ 01:23:43

    Oh, wow. I don’t think I would have picked this book up randomly, but now that I’ve read your review, I might have to see if my library has the audiobook. Sounds like a powerful story and the fact that it’s based on real events makes it so much more compelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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  9. waytoofantasy
    Feb 06, 2020 @ 03:51:40

    Sounds like an amazing read! I have to say I really love the cover as well.

    Like

    Reply

  10. Davida Chazan
    Feb 08, 2020 @ 22:19:13

    I know nothing about this era, so it sounds interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  11. Tracey (Carpe Librum)
    Feb 11, 2020 @ 22:14:44

    Great review Shelleyrae, I’m considering this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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