by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Adult Historical Fiction, LGBTQ
After a storm has killed off all the island’s men, two women in a 1600s Norwegian coastal village struggle to survive against both natural forces and the men who have been sent to rid the community of alleged witchcraft.
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Bergensdatter 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 Northern 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 pushed together and 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.
I have to admit, from even re-reading the synopsis from Goodreads, this book has an excellent premise. And maybe it was because of that and the hype from so many of my bookish friends that I set my expectations way too high… and as a result, The Mercies left me disappointed!
Gah, I hate when this happens!! I recently read The Deathless Girls and loved it, so I was really excited to get to this unique historical fiction novel, including a seaside town full of women after a mysterious fatal storm, with a F/F romance and witch trials?! I mean, come on, this sounds divine and that alone should make you read this.
But for me personally, there was something off about this for me. It just didn’t deliver in the way I wanted to and trust me, I am disappointed that it didn’t! I found the book so incredibly slow that every time I picked it up I could only manage 30-40 pages at a time – which is so unlike me! I also think there was a layer of detachment between me and the main characters, particularly Ursa and Maren. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t connect to them enough to really care for them.
However, this book did have some strengths. Millwood Hargrave’s writing style is absolutely beautiful, she writes with such lyrical, enchanting prose that it’s impossible not to draw you in (hence the reason I kept going). I also really loved the last 100 or so pages, I think they definitely redeemed the book for me somewhat. I just wish that the whole book had been at that pace and I think I would have loved it a lot more. I also loved the setting, she does a fantastic job of feeling like you’re exactly where she’s set the book!
I want to know if I’m alone! I know a lot of people enjoyed it and can’t sing this book’s praises enough, which is totally fair, but is there anyone out there who overall felt kind of ‘meh’ about this? Let me know in the comments below!