The women in an Arctic village must survive a sinister threat after all the men are wiped out by a catastrophic storm in this "gripping novel inspired by a real-life witch hunt. . . . Beautiful and chilling" (Madeline Miller, bestselling author of Circe).
When the women take over, is it sorcery or power?
Finnmark, Norway, 1617. Twenty-year-old Maren Magnusdatter stands on the craggy coast, watching the skies break into a sudden and reckless storm. All forty of the village’s men were at sea, including Maren’s father and brother, and all forty are drowned in the otherworldly disaster.
For the women left behind, survival means defying the strict rules of the island. They fish, hunt, and butcher reindeer—which they never did while the men were alive. But the foundation of this new feminine frontier begins to crack with the arrival of Absalom Cornet, a man sent from Scotland to root out alleged witchcraft. Cornet brings with him the threat of danger—and a pretty, young Norwegian wife named Ursa.
As Maren and Ursa are drawn to one another in ways that surprise them both, the island begins to close in on them, with Absalom's iron rule threatening Vardø's very existence.
"The Mercies has a pull as sure as the tide. It totally swept me away to Vardø, where grief struck islanders stand tall in the shadow of religious persecution and witch burnings. It's a beautifully intimate story of friendship, love and hope. A haunting ode to self-reliant and quietly defiant women." (Douglas Stuart, Booker Prize winning author of Shuggie Bain)
This dark, dramatic historical from Hargrave (The Girl of Ink & Stars) begins on Christmas Eve 1617 when 40 men from Norway's remote island settlement of Vard die in a storm at sea, setting in motion events that lead to witch trials and executions. Maren Magnusdatter, age 20, having lost her father, brother, and fianc in the storm, lives quietly in Vard with her mother and sister-in-law Diinna, of the S mi people. That changes with the arrival of noted witch-hunter Commissioner Absalom Cornet, who comes from Scotland with his Norwegian wife, Ursa, to root out nonbelievers. Unused to such meager conditions, Ursa hires Maren to help her with household chores. Their friendship grows, as does Ursa's fear of her husband, an enthusiastic participant in the branding, strangling, and burning of suspected witches. Encouraged by the feudal lord who brought him to Vard , Cornet seeks out nonchurchgoers in a crusade against evil that puts Diinna and other S mis at risk. Eventually, Cornet arrests two local widows, tortures and burns them at the stake, then comes to arrest Maren, while Maren and Ursa turn to each other for affection and support. Hargraves's tale offers a feminist take on a horrific moment in history with its focus on the subjugation of women, superstition in isolated locations, and brutality in the name of religion. This is a potent novel.