This is another novel that I totally judged by its cover (and then you know, read what it as about) and then bought it. I liked the fact that it was a fantasy, but it wasn’t princesses and dragons and all that nonsense. It was more viking-like but not exactly viking. It’s easy to read as it’s a young adult novel, but it really doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects.
So, what’s it about then? There are four women who are Mercies: they are essentially a mercy-killing service, travelling their areas and help people have a merciful death when they are ill, old or just want to die. All the girls are young, the narrator Frey being the oldest at seventeen. It’s not an easy life, the pay is not good and killing people no fun either. The alternative it seems it to ender a Bliss House, which is basically a brothel.
However, the women want more than just a life of being a Mercy and Frey has dreams of glory. So that’s what they set off to do, hearing the call to slay a beast that is wreaking havoc on a nearby jarl.
What was wonderful about the book was how it took traditional idea of pursuing glory and hunting monsters on its head a little bit. Nothing is easy for the Mercies and often on their journey they are confronted that all monsters may be monstrous, but they also have their own tragic stories. But the Mercies still make the hard decisions and carry on in their journey.
The other thing about the novel is how beautiful the words are. Just gorgeous, poetic visions of landscapes and people. I especially loved how Juniper (a Sea Witch) often uses different hand symbols as wards or just to express something. I often stopped reading to make the symbol as it was just an interesting and compelling thing to read for some reason. All the characters were different and complex, which I adored. There were a few men alongside he women but all the characters, good and bad were women.
I revelled in how it kept the interesting atmosphere and magic from fantasy but created this world where women could become the epic heroes, complicated leaders or interesting villains. It was so unlike so much of the tired fantasy I have read in the past. Why can’t adult novels just get a grip and write something as brutal, honest and beautiful like this?
Anyway, it was great. It’s so easy to read (I basically read it in two sittings) but it doesn’t compromise of having an epic scale and vision. So worth picking up. I so want Netflix or something to make it into a short series, set somewhere snowy and atmospheric. It’s cinematic in its environments which would make it a tense and wonderful thing to watch.