Book Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

April 13, 2020

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a novel based on real occurrences which happen in a small Norwegian village of Vardø in the early 1600s. Ms. Hargrave is an award winning writer and poet.

Book Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
My rat­ing for The Mercies5
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This book has a great concept which piqued my interest, and when I read that it was based on actual events that made me want to read The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave even more. An island of women struggling in a harsh atmosphere, and foreign men who think they know better and want to “save” them from themselves.

The story takes place in Norway, during the first half the book deals with the death of most of the Vardø’s men, the few that are left cannot support the village in the harsh conditions. The women are left to fend for themselves as there is no help coming anytime soon to such a remote place. I found that part especially interesting, they had to learn how to fish, start fires, fix boats and houses, as well as deal with the looks they got from their minister.
But they have to live, and the minister understands this.

The second half of the book deals with the witch hunter, Absalom Cornet, who comes to the island to make his name within the church. With him, Absalom brings his new wife, Ursula, who did not know who she married. The story is told from the view point of Ursula and Maren, an island native, who grow very fund of each other. While some of the women in this small community embrace the literal witch hunt, they all have no idea what they got themselves into, and embraced, until it’s too late.

Ms. Hargrave tries to get the reader into the mind of the witch hunter and his fellow religious zealots. I had a hard time with this part of the book. It is difficult for me to imagine zealots of any religion believe in witches and other events which are contrary to our G-d given gifts of reason, deduction, and respect for our fellow human beings.

I found the story to be well researched and detail enough to build a picture without hurting the narrative. The writing is very engaging, almost lyrical, but the author somehow also manages to capture the harsh life and climate. The theme of harshness is all throughout this book. The women, tough, some unforgiving, live in very difficult conditions, about to be made even more difficult.

A freak sudden storm has killed off most of the men of the small Norwegian coastal village of Vardø. Three years later, in 1620, Absalom Cornet was sent from Scotland to rid the island of witches. With Absalom comes his new Norwegian wife, Ursula.

Ursula has never seen such independent women before, but Absalom only sees a G-dless place, flooded by evil. Ursula also finds a soulmate in the presence of Maren, an island native, but their relationship is even more dangerous with Absalom’s iron rule and the might of a kingdom behind him.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I got this book for free.
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