On Christmas Eve, 1617, the sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. As Maren Magnusdatter watches, forty fishermen, including her father and brother, are lost to the waves, the menfolk of Vardø wiped out in an instant.
Now the women must fend for themselves.
Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilized world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of Vardø to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In Vardø, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place untouched by God and flooded with a mighty and terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs.
Inspired by the real events of the Vardø storm and the 1621 witch trials, Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is a story about how suspicion can twist its way through a community, and a love that may prove as dangerous as it is powerful.
I enjoyed this ‘Norwegian Crucible’ of a story. Based on historical events where the search for witches becomes a bloodthirsty passion; it’s such an horrific part of our world history that shouldn’t be forgotten ~ this book serves to remind us of the awful way power, superstition, control, jealousy and mass hysteria can cause humans to do truly terrible things.
The story follows two young women, who meet in differing circumstances but find an instant connection with one another. One woman who has endured great loss and hardship; another married to a stranger and taken to a new isolating and intimidating land. Both are likeable protagonists and I loved how their relationship developed admid the chaos of accusations and suspicion. How their feelings for each other grew so naturally against the darkness of the unnatural regime choking their community.
The writing is rich and immersive, the landscape dark and cold. I really enjoyed this book and the inevitable bittersweet ending.