book review

Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies: Amazon.co.uk: Millwood Hargrave, Kiran: 9781529005103: Books

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Mercies is set in the 1600s, on an island called Vardo in the far north of Norway. The novel opens with a freak storm, which drowns the majority of the island’s men, who had just set out to fish. With their men gone, the women of Vardo must learn to fend for themselves. There are two main characters in this novel: Maren, a 20 year old woman who loses her husband and brother to the storm, and Ursa, who comes to the island as the new wife of a commissioner. The commissioner is appointed to Vardo to keep an eye on the women, as news has spread around of them fishing and doing ‘manly activities’, which is considered ungodly.

The writing in this novel is beautiful. I found it lyrical, and it brought an eerie feeling to the novel at times. The author was particularly good at creating the island – as something so outside of my realm of experience, I could picture Vardo and the life there vividly. The author clearly put in the research to create such a detailed and lifelike depiction of this time period and place.

What I struggled with in this novel was the pacing. Nothing much happens for the first half of the book or so – it’s just life, the women surviving – which I didn’t mind at all (though I could see how it might not be others’ cup of tea)! But I think this was a case of the blurb of the novel really spoiling and placing too much expectation on the book. The blurb introduces Absalom (Ursa’s husband; the commissioner) and mentions that he was a witch-hunter in Scotland. The blurb also says that the novel was inspired by the real events of the storm and the 1621 witch trials. So I knew to expect witch trials, but this doesn’t really come into play in the book until 3/4 of the way through, at least. From there, the ending came quickly and felt really rushed. I think this could have been improved by two things – firstly, don’t mention something that happens 3/4 of the way through in the blurb!! This frustrates me (though this is obviously not the author’s fault, but the publisher’s). And secondly, I felt like we could’ve spent a lot more time with the witch trail aspect to the novel. The book wraps up quite quickly after this is introduced, and I think it doesn’t build the tension in the way that it should. It was captivating and moving to read, but I wasn’t on the edge of my seat in the way I should’ve been. The idea of suspicion and the women turning against each other was a well-planted seed, but it just didn’t pay off in the best way.

This brings me to my next issue with the novel: I found the ending to the novel wasn’t really deserved. By this I don’t mean whether a character did not morally/karmically deserve what happened to them, but that the ending felt like it was tacked on the end of a different book? The best endings to me are when you read them and you think ‘I wasn’t expecting that to happen, but now I look back I can see these seeds’. I didn’t think that at all with this one; I thought ‘I wasn’t expecting that to happen, and looking back, I still think it comes out of the blue’. I just think the emotional pay-off wasn’t there, to be honest.

Despite the issues with the pacing and ending, I did really enjoy the process of reading this book. It was captivating, I loved the writing and the setting, and I was really intrigued by both the characters of Maren and Ursa. I thought they were well-developed. Maren is grieving the loss of her brother and father, as well as the loss of her betrothed and the life that they would’ve had together. Ursa struggles with her new husband – a marriage arranged by her father, which takes her away from her beloved sister and the only life she’s ever known (well-off in the city of Bergen) to a hostile and unfamiliar environment. Maren and Ursa develop a deep and dangerous bond between them – I loved the development of their relationship, I thought it was really well done.

I loved the feminist aspect of this novel; there is a feeling of pure joy when the women first fish together and learn they can fend for themselves. It’s lovely to see women empower themselves. And it’s important to remember that feminism is about things as simple as being able to live and provide for yourself, in whatever way you want – and it’s sad and terrifying to see scared and cowardly men tear these women down because they do things they don’t understand. This book really hammers home the high cost of independence for women.

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book meme

WWW Wednesday | 27 Jan

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

(All links below are to Goodreads.)

What are you currently reading?

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I literally just finished a book last night, so I haven’t picked up a new book yet. However, I do know that my next read will be Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I’ve seen amazing things about this one, and it comes out on 4th Feb, so I want to read it and hopefully post a review before then. According to the blurb, it is a ‘A stunning, shattering debut novel about two Black British artists falling in and out of love’. I can’t wait to be shattered by it, haha! (Seriously though, books that shatter you are the best – see A Little Life!)

I’m also still reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. I’m enjoying taking my time with this and absorbing everything. As I’m reading, I find myself writing down quotes/taking pictures of passages that I feel resonate with me. I’m getting so much from this book, and I also feel like it’s informing conversations I have with other people – which is a really good thing.

Here’s a quote I wrote down the other day:

The reality is that white, mainstream feminism has to confront the idea that the power to do harm rests in women too.

Mikki Kendall, Hood Feminism

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve finished two books in the last week, which I’m very happy about.

The first is The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. This is a novel set on a Norwegian island in the 1600s. When a great storm kills all of the men of the island, the women are left to fend for themselves. As word of what the women are doing spreads, a new commissioner is sent to the island to watch over them, with fears that what they are doing is ungodly. I enjoyed the writing and themes in this book a lot, but I did think the pacing was a bit off and the ending felt very rushed to me – my review will be posting soon on this!

The other books I’ve finished is The Magpie Society by Amy McCulloch and Zoe Sugg. I was really interested in the premise of this book – a death at a boarding school, a mysterious podcast that claims the death was murder, two students who team up to solve it – but it really fell flat to me. Now, I know that I’m no longer the target audience of YA novels, but I really felt like this novel was too surface-level for me? The characters weren’t very well developed, the writing was average, the twists were signposted from a mile away and the entire book felt like set up for the next ones. The way the novel ended particularly annoying – we don’t get any answers at all, it just ends in a cliff hanger for the next book in the series. I think that writing books in a series is a balance, as you have to both have a full plot that ties up at the end of the book, while leaving it open for the next – and this didn’t tie anything up. It was just like the book ended too early. Unfortunately, I won’t be picking up the next book in this series.

What do you think you’ll read next?

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Probably Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan – I’m really excited for this one and I’ve heard great things. I’ve got a review copy from NetGalley and am hoping to read and post my review before the pub date (11 Feb). According to the blurb on Goodreads, ‘Insatiable is about women and desire – lust, longing and the desire to be loved’. I’m very on board! (As a side note, I also think the cover is really good and it actually reminds me of The Supper Club – another book I have on my tbr, which I’m very interested in reading.)

What are you currently reading? How are you finding it? And what are you planning to read next?

book meme

WWW Wednesday | 20 Jan

Hi everyone! I’m back with another WWW Wednesday, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

The three Ws to be answered are:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall and The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Funny that the latter one wasn’t on last week’s list of what I was going to read next! I just really felt like picking it up.

I’m really enjoying Hood Feminism, which is written in the form of short essays about different areas that Mikki Kendall argues should be part of mainstream feminism. She looks at these areas (lack of education, medical care, living wage, safe neighbourhoods) through the lens of intersectional feminism, focusing specifically on Black womxn. I’ve found all of her essays incredibly insightful, a blend of fact and personal stories – and I will definitely come away from this book with a lot to think about.

I don’t usually read two books at a time, but I find that I best digest these essays reading one or two at a time, and then giving myself the breathing space to really think about them. I’m over halfway through, and I could’ve read more by now, but I really want to absorb what they’re saying instead of rushing through them! I picked up The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave to fill the gaps in between reading Hood Feminism – and I’m really enjoying this too. This novel is set in the 1600s, on a Norweigan coastal village after a great storm killed most of the men in the village. The women have to adapt to survive, breaking social norms at the time. When Absalom Cornet (a witchhunter from Scotland) arrives, he sees a place untouched by God and flooded with evil. The writing in this book is beautiful, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

What did you recently finish reading?

I haven’t actually finished reading anything since last week. I feel like I haven’t had much of a chance to read during weekdays at the moment – work is very busy and by the end of the day I don’t necessarily feel like concentrating on reading. So I made progress with my two books at the weekend, but didn’t finish anything!

What do you think you’ll read next?

I know I didn’t follow any of the things I mentioned in this section last week, but I do think I will read Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson next. This is a debut novel about two Black British artists who fall in and out of love. This is what the Goodreads blurb says:

At once at achingly beautiful love story and potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it.

How amazing does that sound?? I have the eARC for the novel (thanks to NetGalley and the publishers), and want to read it before it publishes on 4 February.

So that’s it from me this week! I hope your reading week has been slightly better than mine! What are you currently reading and how are you finding it?