The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave is her first novel for adults.
On Christmas Eve 1617, the families of 40 fishermen watch in horror as a sudden storm off the island of Vardo, (Norway’s north-easternmost point), sweeps their menfolk into the turbulent waves.
As the community gather in the Kirke on the Sabbath, the women realise that all their men are gone and they must now find the strength to fend for themselves.
Maren Magnusdatter has lost her father and brother in the deadly storm. While her mamma and pregnant sister-in-law can only grieve, Maren realises it has fallen upon her to keep the family alive. She joins forces with those like-minded women, who are prepared to brave the sea to fish and so feed their community.
In the town of Bergen in south-western Norway, 1619, Ursula (Ursa to her family) is to meet the new Commissioner for Vardo, Absalom Cornet, who has been summoned from Scotland. In taking up his post he will take Ursa with him as his bride.
Dismayed at being housed in an inferior dwelling on Vardo, where he regards the population as disreputable and ungodly, Absalom takes out his anger upon his wife and those women left behind.
Ursa finds solace in the fortitude of the women of Vardo and, in particular, Maren, who becomes more than just a housemaid.
Absolam and Ursa are invited to meet his superior, Lensmann Cunningham and his wife, who are staying at the nearby fortress in Vardohus. From a conversation during dinner, Ursa is horrified to discover her husband’s true identity.
Distrusted by the men in power, can the women of Vardo survive the suspicion and accusations that are dividing the island community?
The novel was inspired by the historical events of a sudden storm off the Norwegian island of Vardo in 1617, and by the sorcery laws brought in by King Christian IV in 1618, which led to the witch trials in 1621.
This amazing narrative takes the reader to a remote island with an extreme climate and sweeping terrain never experienced by most.
Coupled with the living conditions that the population of those times bore, it makes heart-wrenching reading, as does the persecution of innocent women. The latter was perpetrated, under the premise of religious beliefs, to keep at bay men’s fears of losing their power over women.
It also tells of those women who had the courage to survive adversity and to live, love and raise their families as they knew best.
Heart in mouth until the very last page, this is a must-read for 2020.
The Mercies is available in paperback, hardback and e-book
About Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Kiran Millwood Hargrave (b. 1990) is an award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist. Her bestselling works for children include The Girl of Ink & Stars, and have won numerous awards including the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year, and the Blackwell’s Children’s Book of the Year, and been shortlisted for prizes such as the Costa Children’s Book Award and the Blue Peter Best Story Award. The Mercies is her first novel for adults. Kiran lives by the river in Oxford, with her husband, artist Tom de Freston, and their rescue cat, Luna.