Book: THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies

Oh, my… this novel — THE MERCIES! The atmospheric setting, the writing, the characterization, the story… I was swept away and transported from the first lovely sentences:

Last night Maren dreamt a whale beached itself on the rocks outside her house.

She climbed down the cliff to its heaving body and rested her eye against its eye, wrapped her arms across the great stinking swell. There was nothing she could do for it but this.

The men came scrambling down the black rock like dark, swift insects, glinting and hard-bodied with blades and scythes…


The MerciesTHE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of my favorite books this year – rich in historical insight from the 1600s and inspired by actual witch trials in northernmost Norway. The author weaves period details into the story with such a soft touch, they are consumed like air – unnoticeable, natural.

The author’s poetry background is evident from so many lovely metaphorical passages:

They eat nothing but old bread, settling like pebbles in their stomachs. Maren feels the food so solid inside her, and her body so unreal about it, she imagines herself pinned down to the earth only by Mamma’s stale loaves. If she doesn’t eat, she will become smoke and gather in the eaves of their house.

Toril was always a difficult woman to like, cool even to those she had known all her life, but since the storm she has taken to wearing her faith like armour, wielding her piousness like a blade.”

THE MERCIES is a book about women. Resourceful women. About the complexity of women, their depth, their strength, the betrayals against them historically, their cloistered voices, their submission to men. It’s about evil and ambition-turned-deadly, about the frightening power of community. But, mostly, it is a story about the human need for acceptance.

The British author, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, is a well-known children’s author, and this is her debut work of adult fiction. I certainly hope she writes for adult audiences again soon!


(A version of Melissa Crytzer Fry’s review of THE MERCIES by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was published at GoodReads on July 27, 2020. It is reposted here with permission of the reviewer.)

Look for more reviews by Melissa Crytzer Fry on BELOW THE SALT NEWS.


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