For readers of Circe and The Handmaid’s Tale, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and about a love that could prove as dangerous as it is powerful.
Winter, 1617. The sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. A young woman, Maren, watches as the men of the island, out fishing, perish in an instant. Vardø is now a place of women.
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 the island to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In her new home, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place flooded with a terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs . . .
‘Beautiful and chilling’ Madeline Miller, author of Circe
‘Took my breath away’ Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring
HERE ARE MY THOUGHTS AND REVIEW
The story is set on a small Norwegian island, in the town of Verdø in the winter of 1617. Forty men go out on fishing boats but when an unexpected storm hits the boats they are all killed. The Island is virtually left without any men, so the women have to take on tasks they haven’t done before. Maren’s father, brother and the man she was to marry all perished and so it falls on her to take care of the family that is left, her mother, sister-in-law and baby. Planning and preparing were essential if they were to survive.
When Absalom Cornet, a Scottish commissioner and his wife Ursa arrived to take charge of the Island the story takes an even darker path. Absalom had risen through the ranks quickly because of his unwavering results and acts of cruelty in outing those thought to delve into witchcraft. His wife was totally unaware of his ‘sideline’ and reputation.
There is an unlikely friendship that comes about between Maren and Ursa as she teaches the new arrival how to bake, literally make beds and sew. Ursa’s family were wealthy people so she hadn’t any skills, everything had always been done for her. Absalom isn’t long before he finds his target to blame the men’s’ deaths on and what follows is sickening.
The Island that had been a community became a pack of frenzied frightened women. Ursa’s innocence to what and who her husband really was makes her a stronger character. At times I found the story hard to read, not only is it a true story, the author just brings these women to life. I felt broken and so very emotional. This is such a powerful story. A huge must-read.
I wish to thank NetGalley and the publisher for an e-copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly
HERE, IS A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kiran Millwood Hargrave (b. Surrey 1990) is a poet, playwright, and author. Her books for children and young adults include the bestselling The Girl of Ink & Stars, The Way Past Winter, and The Deathless Girls. Her debut novel for adults is The Mercies (February 2020).
Between them, her children’s books have won numerous awards including Children’s Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Historical Association Young Quills Award, and the Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year. They have been shortlisted for the Jhalak Prize, the Little Rebels Prize, the Branford Boase Award, the Blue Peter Best Story Award, Costa Children’s Book Prize, and Foyles’ Children’s Book of the Year, amongst others.
The Mercies has been selected for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club, and was called ‘unquestionably the book of the 2018 London Book Fair’ by The Bookseller.
Kiran lives in Oxford with her husband, the artist Tom de Freston, and their rescue cat, Luna.