“Boneless Mercies” is populated with strong women

April Genevieve Tucholke’s “The Boneless Mercies” spins an old tale on its head.

Ann Marie Leimbach, Variety Editor

As any book worm knows, fantasy novels are often overpopulated with men. Whether the main character is the ‘Chosen One’ that will save the world a la Beowulf, or a band of brothers on a long journey like in “The Hobbit.” Inspired by the epics of centuries past, Tucholke weaves a beautiful and original story populated with women as the focal point. 

The titular Boneless Mercies are women hired to perform mercy killings on the old, sick and injured. Trained in ways of killing gently and quickly, they wander around from town to town looking for work as a group. 

Frey, who narrates the novel, is the leader of a band of Mercies consisting of the quiet Ovi, fierce Runa and the lively Sea Witch Juniper. They are also joined by Trigve, a mysterious young man with hopes of being a healer. 

In a world where unmarried women have limited options, the girls had no choice but to join “The Death Trade.” Seeking honor, adventure, or simply a place to call home, the Mercies decide to travel north to take on a seemingly unbeatable beast that has been destroying everything in its path.

There is a lot to love about this book. It has a well-crafted world, distinct characters and an incredibly engaging plot. Every sentence brings you further and further into the story, investing you in the development of every single person that comes across the page. 

While each Mercy could be sorted into a trope, they are not pigeonholed into those predetermined roles. Each girl (and one boy) is as complex and three dimensional as the next. 

Tucholke seamlessly weaves lore and world-building into the narration, nothing feels over-explained or described, and nothing confusing is left that way for too long. “The Boneless Mercies” is meant to be a stand-alone, but by the end, I was aching for an entire series.

The one thing that may bother some readers is Tucholke’s slower pacing. While I wouldn’t say any part of this novel is boring, it feels more like a jog to the end than a sprint. The pacing lends itself to the story well, by allowing the reader time to soak up the adventure and atmosphere. I also appreciated the pace because I did not want the novel to end, so it gave me more time to enjoy it. 

“The Boneless Mercies” is a worthy fantasy read. It blends interpersonal relationships with action and adventure in a way that many other high fantasy stories fail to do. The breathtaking setting, well-written characters and an exciting narrative make this the perfect book to devour.