Do you know when a book is so magical that you don’t want it to end?
That was The Mercies for me!
This took me an age to read but in the best possible way. Firstly, it is quite an alien location and society to me so I had to be in the zone for it and secondly, I didn’t want to just mindlessly read this and miss the magic because it is very cleverly and beautifully written. It took me finishing work for the year to properly give this my attention but I’m so glad that I did. It is worth the effort and focus, I promise!
For those of you that don’t know, The Mercies is historical fiction at its finest. It tells the story of the remote island of Vardo, which is struck a tragedy which kills almost all of the men. The women who are left behind have to find a new way to function in a society that is cut off and without help for many months. When help does come, it is not what they expected. Worried about the effect of the women being left alone, the authorities have sent Absalom Cornet to bring them to heel. He brings a strange new darkness to the island which might be the women’s biggest challenge yet.
Let’s start with the setting. Vardo is the perfect setting for this story as its remoteness means that it is cut off from the changing world. Parts of it are still in the old superstitions of Norway, while others try to follow Christianity. Its mystery also means that it is almost like a character itself as it battles to cope with all of the changes that occur from the first page to the last.
As much as I love Vardo however, it is not my favourite character. Ursa – Absalom’s wife- most definitely is. Watching her development from shy and somewhat spoilt girl to a young woman who carves happiness for herself was a genuine delight. She was such a rich character, especially when compared with Maren who was raised on the island. Their friendship was one of my absolute favourite parts of the book. It was part of the magic for it for me. They came from such different backgrounds but were able to come together and grow together, despite the changes on Vardo.
Overall, my biggest praise has to be for Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s writing. There is something magical about the way she weaves together so many characters and themes to create something enchanting. Without giving too much away, her control over all the different threads of the story so that they come together for that ending was… wow. Utterly brilliant.
In fact, this book has started a new love for her writing, as you will see with my next review…