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The Mercies


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Winter, 1617. The sea around the remote Norwegian island of Vardø is thrown into a reckless storm. A young woman, Maren, watches as the men of the island, out fishing, perish in an instant. Vardø is now a place of women.

Eighteen months later, a sinister figure arrives. Summoned from Scotland to take control of a place at the edge of the civilized world, Absalom Cornet knows what he needs to do to bring the women of the island to heel. With him travels his young wife, Ursa. In her new home, and in Maren, Ursa finds something she has never seen before: independent women. But Absalom sees only a place flooded with a terrible evil, one he must root out at all costs . . .

‘Beautiful and chilling’ – Madeline Miller, author of Circe
‘Took my breath away’ – Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl with a Pearl Earring

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The Mercies:


The Mercies is among the best novels I’ve read in years. In addition to its beautiful writing, its subject matter is both enduring and timely ― New York Times Book Review

A gripping novel . . . [Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s] most vital insights are about the human heart: how terrifyingly quickly prejudices can turn into murder, and how desperately we need love and courage to oppose it. Beautiful and chilling — Madeline Miller, author of Circe

This is a powerful story that gathers ever more momentum as it moves towards its conclusion ― Sunday Times

The most interesting historical fiction speaks of the time of writing as much as of its subject . . . The Mercies shows us the patriarchal fear of women’s strength and reason — Sarah Moss, Guardian

Historical fiction fans looking for a Handmaid’s Tale-style twist will love this novel . . . A story of danger, love and power – with Big Offred Energy ― Cosmopolitan

The Mercies is storytelling at its most masterful. This is an exquisite tale of sisterhood, of love, of courage and of what happens when communities turn on each other . . . I raged, I laughed, I cried. I urge you to read this novel — Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory

Extraordinary! — Jo Whiley, BBC Radio Book Club

A book for our times . . . Millwood Hargrave is a whirlwind, storm-building talent — Daisy Johnson, Man Booker Prize shortlisted author of Everything Under

The Mercies took my breath away . . . Kiran Millwood Hargrave has masterfully built up an incredible claustrophobic atmosphere, shot through with delicate intimacy. On finishing it I pressed the book to me, hoping to absorb some of her skill — Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With a Pearl Earring

Read if you like Circe by Madeline Miller and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel — Sunday Times Style, ‘Best New Books for 2020’

Spun from real-life events, this lyrical novel charts the aftermath of a fatal storm in a 17th century Norwegian fishing village: a town almost exclusively composed of women and girls, and the violent witch-burning newcomer hell-bent on their conversion ― Vanity Fair

Based on real events, this is a stunning, intensely told story about sisterhood, superstition and prejudice ― Good Housekeeping

The Mercies is a gripping tale of love and obsession, inspired by the real events of a storm on the Norwegian island of Vardø in 1617 that prompted witch trials. Absalom Cornet, the man used to bring the women to submission, is a creepy creation by Millwood, in her debut adult novel ― i-news

Elegant and chilling . . . an absorbing account of women finding power and grace and love even under the most harrowing circumstances ― USA Today

This retelling of a historical story follows an isolated community of women accused of witchcraft in Norway in the 17th century. After the men of Vardo island are drowned at sea, the women are left to fend for themselves. The arrival of witch hunter Cornet tests loyalties, reinstates rivalries and fosters friendships, but his brutality threatens everything they hold dear. A dark read filled with suspicion and fear ― Psychologies

A mesmerising, heartwrenching novel which had me desperate for the women of Vardø to win through. A perfect book club choice — AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs Bird

Passionate, stirring and conveying a terrifying atmosphere of claustrophobic oppression, Hargrave’s gripping tale of courageous women facing overwhelming odds is helped along no end by the vividness of her bleak island location and her depiction of the dynamics of a God-fearing fishing village as opposing factions struggle for control ― The Herald

With her characteristic tenderness and prose that tides between the carnal and the sublime, Kiran Millwood Hargrave illuminates one of the darkest chapters of our history. In The Mercies, she sweeps us to a place that dazzles and reeks and chills to the bone, where the hearts of women roar louder than storms. She is an outstanding talent, and wherever her imagination sails next, I will follow — Samantha Shannon, author of The Bone Season and The Priory of the Orange Tree

Both harrowing and beautiful. Through mesmerizing prose, Kiran Millwood Hargrave depicts the brutality of life for women on an isolated island in 1620 Norway during the witch trials. Yet amidst this horror and within the punishing landscape, she creates a set of brilliant characters and a moving love story full of tenderness and hopeThis is a book to be savoured and read time and again. — Jenny Quintana, author of The Missing Girl

Absolutely stunningThe Mercies is a very special book. — Louise O’Neill, author of Asking For It

I loved The Mercies. It opened up a completely new chapter of history to me, and I loved the way it told its story in such beautiful language. I won’t forget this story of these women in a Norway I knew little about. A searing historical novel — Naomi Wood, author of Mrs Hemingway

Every once in a while, a modern day parable, perfectly told, reflects all that could happen in a world gone mad. Kiran Millwood Hargrave has written a novel for our times with artistry and skill. Maren’s story is powerful, at turns, it is disturbing, and ultimately illuminating. You will ponder it long after you finish this magnificent work — Adriana Trigiani, author of Lucia, Lucia

The first adult novel from the award-winning children’s writer begins with one of the most dramatic openings I have read in a long time: it is Christmas eve, 1617, when a shattering storm takes the lives of all the fishermen off the coast of the remote Norwegian island of Vardø. . . Based on the real-life witch trials of 1621, this is an immersive and beautifully written tale. Highly recommended — Alice O’Keeffe ― Bookseller, Editor’s Choice

Kiran Millwood Hargrave effortlessly transports us across hundreds of years and thousands of miles to a tiny Norwegian Island in the early seventeenth century and throws us into the lives and passions of an extraordinary cast of characters . . . deeply unsettling, entirely pertinent to our contemporary lives, and a completely addictive read. I cannot recommend it enough — Sarah Butler, author of Jack and Bet

On an icy, dark island, men hunt witches and women fight back. Kiran Millwood Hargrave plucks a piece of 400-year-old legal history – a European king’s prosecution of 91 people for witchcraft – and gives it a feminist spin. In clean, gripping sentences, the author is wonderfully tuned to the ways and gestures of a seemingly taciturn people. This chilling tale of religious persecution is served up with a feminist bite — Kirkus (starred review)

Caught me from the very first page and held me right to the end. A vivid evocation of time and place and utterly believable, absorbing characters – I felt I breathed the same air . . . The Mercies is a story that will stay with me — Helen Walmsley-Johnson, author of Look What You Made Me Do

Dark and menacing, retelling the story of a witch hunt on the isolated island of Vardo, off the coast of Norway . . . Millwood Hargrave slowly builds an atmosphere of suspicion and superstition as new loyalties and old rivalries rear up. Small jealousies, petty misunderstandings and personal dislikes are magnified in the close-knit surroundings, with religion, belief and piety at the heart of disputes ― Express

About the Author

Kiran Millwood Hargrave (b. 1990) is an award-winning poet, playwright, and novelist. The Mercies is her first novel for adults. 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. They have also been shortlisted for prizes such as the Costa Children’s Book Award, the Blue Peter Best Story Award and the Foyles Book of the Year Award. The Mercies is 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.

Author can be found online at

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Additional information

Weight600 g
Dimensions24 × 18 × 5 cm
Binding Style

Hardcover, Paperback


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