The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies

Changing the time period of my historical fiction reading up a bit, I journeyed back to Norway circa 1617 for a mythic novel, based on the 1617 storm and 1621 Witch Trials in Vardo. In this small settlement on the coast, a huge storm claims the lives of 40 men in their fishing boats, leaving a community of women with two elder men and their minister. Of necessity, the women seek comfort where they can, be it in accepted religious traditions or in other practices. They take on what has been considered “men’s” work by fishing and wearing pants. The friendship and solace they find in each other is matched with insinuations, judgement and rumor mongering.

A Scottish Commissioner arrives a few years later with his young Norwegian wife to take charge of the village and root out any who are not following the letter of the religious law. Their marraige is an arranged union, and his new wife is frankly terrified of her husband. She meekly “flies under the radar” as much as she can, but we find her seeking friendship with other women in the village, and seeing the value in their independent ways of living.

I read about The Mercies pre-publication, and queued it up in my Goodreads account. Shifting around in my TBR pile, and I finally picked it up. I am glad I did! The characters have an archtypical quality, and the tensions and conflicts are like those in a Greek myth, albeit with a feminist bent. The descriptions are powerful-you almost feel and smell and hear and taste and see the atmosphere, making the message of the consequences of intolerance and fear that much more powerful. Despite the time period of hundreds of years ago, Hargrave paints an absorbing portrait that is very applicable in today’s worldwide scenarios.