Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
This book has been staring at me on my shelf for months. Another book I received for my birthday and I was admittedly intimidated as it's a historical fiction book based in the 1600s during the witch trials – an era and subject I know absolutely nothing about. But I was very happy to be pleasantly surprised!
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, The Mercies begins with a ferocious storm in Norway, where forty fisherman are drowned and left for dead 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, they see something they have never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God, and flooded with a mighty evil.
Historical fiction is by no means my go-to genre (especially surrounding topics I am not familiar with), but I was impressed with this book. There were so many touching and poignant moments with very well fleshed out characters. This read fluently as feminist fiction – strong female protagonists that are fighting against the circumstances that have been put against them. There are plenty of twists to keep you guessing, and I consumed an astounding amount of oxygen from the number of gasps I did in the last quarter of the book. To be expected (and something I often find in historical fiction that is set in an era over a century old from modern day), the language is rather formal. It doesn't read quite like classic literature, but I always find this slightly off-putting, as the formality of the writing can take away from the emotional poignancy of the storyline. It took some getting used to as this isn't a writing style I am subjected to often, seeing as I generally avoid classics. But don't let this put you off, as I was quickly engrossed in the trails of these women and became unfazed by the language.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, or are generally interested in fiction/nonfiction about witchcraft and the discrimination against women during this era, I would highly recommend this book. For my fellow sceptics out there, give it a try! As you might just be pleasantly surprised like I was.
Initial Prediction: 4 stars
Final Rating: 4 stars
Publication Date: 6 February 2020
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Historical Fiction
# of Pages: 352