Christmas Eve 1617. A sudden but deadly storm takes the lives of 40 men in a small community at the Norwegian island Vardo. Maren loses her father, brother and fiancé in one night. The women on the island are forced to look after themselves. When a new supervisor arrives with his young wife Ursa from Bergen, things start to change. The Christian women start spreading rumours about former friends who still hold onto old beliefs. Ursa and Maren quickly become friends but they don’t know about the dark reputation of Ursa’s husband.
I was looking forward to reading ‘The mercies‘ and was happy to find it available at the library. The blurb reminded me about ‘The glass woman‘, another novel set in a small community in the north of Europe that I loved instantly. But this turned out to be a different read. Less gothic, more some kind of dramatic love story woven in with historical events.
The story is told from both Maren and Ursa, two young women struggling to find their place on the island. The first few chapters are told from Maren’s perspective and talk about the dramatic storm that takes away many lives. It’s a strong start, although I couldn’t really empathize with Maren. Hargrave writes metaphoric and with much detail but this makes the character development less prominent.
I had a better bond with Ursa who is forced to marry an older man she doesn’t know. Absalom takes her away from everything she knows to a cold place. But the underlying friendship between Ursa and Maren felt artificial. And I also missed some depth in the relationship between Ursa and her husband Absalom. You never really get to know him.
After the storm, the plot evolves slowly. Not much happens. The unrest in the small villages grows and I was in particular interested in some side characters such as Diinna, Maren’s sister-in-a-law and a Lapp, or Kirsten, a free-fought woman not scared to get to work. As the tension is built up, you are waiting for the next big events but they are rushed in the last chapters. The ending is quite dark, I am not too sure which point the author was trying to make with it.
This is certainly no feministic book in my opinion, as women are wronged in all kind of ways in this story. I loved how the novel is built around some true historic events (the storm and witch hunts), but for me the drama around the two main characters didn’t feel quite right. I had expected more from this one. I did enjoy reading ‘The mercies’, but it’s not the kind of story that will stay with me for long.
What’s your favorite book with a cold setting in the north?