Be still, my folklore-loving heart. This Scandinavian inspired design mirrors the book’s plot points in its intricate painterly composition. The symmetry of the two women placed right in the centre is a lovely nod to the two leading characters’ storylines and how they entwine throughout the tale.
With vivid detail and compassionate undertones, Hargrave crafts an exceptional story that will make your heart both hurt and soar in one heroic journey.
We open on Christmas Eve, 1617 in far-flung Norway. Vardo is a remote fishing village off the mainland coast and is right in the path of a sudden and reckless storm which decimates nearly the entirety of the male population who have ventured out in their fishing boats.
What’s left behind in the storm’s wake are the grieving women whose first thoughts — among those for their loss of family members and community — are about how to survive. With incredible resilience, they band together to continue the work of the men — including the arduous tasks of fishing and herding reindeer. At the centre of this new era on the island is a growing divide between the pious church population and the emerging independent women wrestling with their new responsibilities and drawn to the echoes of their culture’s ancient superstitions.
This divide is fuelled by the arrival of the new commissioner, a man who has been tasked to bring ‘order’ to the village. He’s thinking, ‘women in men’s trousers and herding animals, amiright?!’.
The village women we meet are revealed for who they are in astonishing and courageous ways. It’s a slice of history that is perhaps lesser known, but no less meaningful.
Hargrave skilfully weaves two stories of very different women; brought together by one of history’s darker moments. Maren is 20-years-old and continuing life without her father, brother and fiancé. Ursa is a newlywed who is navigating a brutish commissioner for a husband and feeling dramatically lost in translation. Her husband is soon revealed for the man he is: full of prejudice and with a violent history of undertaking witch trials, and whose work in that area is far from finished.
Together, these women discover that despite the world’s cruelty, it contains within it enough kindling to stoke the flames of compassion, hope and love.
The unfolding drama of The Mercies is one that you’ll find in the history books, albeit a reimagined one. The storm was very much real, as were the infuriating and senseless deaths of many.
You’ll grit your teeth as the women would have — against the icy conditions and the injustice.
The Nordic witch trials of the 17th century may be of an unimaginable other time, however the cruelty faced by those women bears a striking familiarity even today. The thing is, this story isn’t one about witches at all, really.
And it’s not a hopeless one, despite what the plot suggests. You’ll experience compassion, have respect for the characters’ independence and marvel at the way that Hargrave captures the era and environment so authentically.
This is a beautiful, horrific, stunning story. I highly recommend it.
Fable and Fizz would like to acknowledge the Whadjuck Noongar people as the traditional owners and continual custodians on the lands and waters this content is primarily written on. I pay respects to their Elders — past and present. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.