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The Sunday Times Bestseller and BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick 2020. For readers of Circe and The Handmaid's Tale, Kiran Millwood Hargrave's The Mercies is a story about a love that could prove as dangerous as it is powerful. Winter, 1617. The sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardo is thrown into a reckless storm. A young woman, Maren, watches as the men of the island, out fishing, perish in an instant. Vardo is now a place of women. Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take ...

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Apr 5, 2020

Not for me

When the majority of the men on the island of VardÝ have been killed by a storm, it is up to the women to take charge - but at what cost?

I always forget that historical novels usually take me a while to get into. The Mercies was no exception; although the world is beautifully described by Karen Millwood Hargrave, I found it quite slow and hard going until the appearance of Ursa, and then I started to get into it properly. I appreciated the world-building and hadn't actually realised it was based on true events until the end of the book. The village and the characters we meet are well-drawn and detailed. The writing is poetic and really created the cold atmosphere of the village. I enjoyed the characters of Ursa and Maren and I liked how the book switched perspectives but only at key moments, not necessarily all of the time to draw me in.

However, I was a little disappointed by the plotting. I've read very similar witch-hunting type books before and I hadn't realised that was what this book would turn into. It became almost two dimensional and a little cliched when the plot began to twist towards the more 'Salem' aspects. I didn't really find any satisfaction in the ending, which I understand may have been the point they were making but as the book had been so slow to build up your relationships with the characters, it felt like a waste of the rest of the book up to that point.

Overall, The Mercies was perhaps not for me, beautifully written but slow and hard-going, with a plot that felt a little too familiar to other novels in the end. Thank you to NetGalley and Pan Macmillan - Picador for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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