The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tcholke is an exquisitely atmospheric fantasy tale that’s part Beowulf and part witchy glory. It’s the kind of book that you soak in because the world is so large and sprawls well beyond the page. Everything seemed so carefully crafted, from the delicious food descriptions to the scenery and the culture. It’s about girls who kill out of mercy, and sometimes out of vengeance, and it’s about monsters and witches and gentle magic and saving those who can’t save themselves.
I’d only read Wink Poppy Midnight by this author before (which is a treacherous and enthralling magical realism story) and I was so excited to see what she’d do with epic fantasy!
The story follows four girls who are known as Boneless Mercies: Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa. Their trade is death: they do mercy killings for those who are dying or sick, and sometimes they kill to save a vulnerable girl trapped in an abusive situation. But that’s rarer. The girls stick to their code and care their dark, dark burden that men won’t even touch. Frey narrates and as the story begins she’s so tired of this life, of being surrounded and permeated with death. So when there’s news of a monster that no one can kill and whoever conquers it will receive an immeasurable reward? She wants in. But she’ll have to travel through witch clans and dark magic to get there…and she’ll have to convince her close Mercies friends to help her. Because she can’t do it alone. Or will she have to?
The setting is very Norse-inspired and I loved this! There are jarls and snowy viking villages, all mixed with the magic of this new created world. We have witch clans and cut-queens and marshes and far off seas. I could feel the snow and the chill seeping from the pages. It’s easy to get absorbed in the setting, harsh and beautiful as it was.
The concept of Mercy Killers was so interesting too. They literally get hired to do this by people who just can’t keep going on. It’s really sad and very dark, and they often cut throats too, so it’s bloody and messy work. But the girls don’t revel in it. And they might be good at it, but they want another life too. Frey in particularly hates the idea of her life not being big enough.
We also get to meet this tight-knit group of five and travel the snowy worlds iwth them. I usually get a bit nervous by big casts and it took them a while to feel fully like individuals, but I loved them all by the end! Frey is our narrator, and a total selfless girl who wants to save all the things and wants to leap into danger. Then there’s Runa, who’s the feisty snarly one, and dreams of running through the forests with the Quicks (who felt like Robin Hood’s merry men!). Ovie is the solid and quiet one, the backbone of the group. Juniper is the actual sweetest of ever. She’s small and does the prayers and cares for the earth and is also a witch. And lastly we have the groups tagalong: Trigve. He’s the sole boy, who they basically scooped off the side of the road before he died. He follows them around loyally although he can never truly be one of them.
The story feels like a peek through a window into a world you only catch the corners of! It makes you desperate for more books, more sequels, to follow what happens next. And I love it when worlds do that. It also weaves in plenty of very apt storylines about women being dismissed and oppressed and how they’re not going to sit back and take it. It’s an empowering story about girls who save people that don’t even trust them. The Boneless Mercies is a heartfelt and strong and deeply magical tale.