Book Review: The Boneless Mercies By April Geneieve Tucholke

There are three ways to keep warm during a Vorse winter. One is fire, one is Vite, and one is storytelling…

As readers, we have, create an intimate connection with the written word. However, the depth of this connection varies per degree. Some stories touch your heart, enchant your mind. Others make you feel, question your believes. But then there are books, tales with words and worlds so powerful, they dissolve in your blood and dig a hook into your soul. The Boneless Mercies was that book for me.

A retelling of Beowulf with an all-female cast, this is one of the most feminist books I’ve ever read. It’s a tale of women whose expertise is needed by society and people of Vorse and thus, they are hated for it. Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa are the Boneless Mercies, assassin’s for hire that go about killing people who need to die. But these killings are not of glory or power but mercy, as their name suggests. They kill the terminally sick and wounded, providing a quick, empathetic escape to Holhalla to depressed souls who no longer have the strength to endure pain. And they are rewarded for their service in coin, superstition and social abandonment. 

We made people uneasy for we were women with weapons. Men would not our sad, dark work…

The story is told in first person, through the point of view of Frey, the leader of this pack and a woman who seeks glory and belonging more than her next breath. The over arching theme, thus, is endurance of pure, unadulterated friendship and the price of glory. 

The plot is somewhat slow and mainly follows the Mercies journey through the enigmatic Vorse lands to kill the Blue Vee Beast terrifying a far off Jarldom. Woven through this are episodic troubles that they must face before they can get to actual quest of hunting the beast. [Spoiler Alert: This doesn’t happen until the last five chapters.] There are money troubles, random attacks, old gods, Witch Wars and magic galore. Woven within this is the enchanting visual imagery of Vorse, its people and an intriguing culture a delightful mix of myth, faith and history. 

There’s nothing I didn’t love about this book. The characters are one of the best set of fictional people I’ve ever fallen for. Our ladies are complex, contradictory and somewhat morally grey. Frey is strong and empathetic, Juniper kind and lovely, Runa fearless and cynical, Ovie silent and enlightened. One would think that with such strong, ass-kicking female protagonist, the male characters would be made to look unimpressive as a case in point. Let me assure you that one would be very much wrong.

The male characters are just as real, flawed and likeable, emotionally sound and supportive, their masculinity unthreatened by strong women warriors. Trigve, an unlikely and only male companion to this female assassin quartet, is a true, tested nerdy friend. Roth, the jarl, a gentle, wise poet who goes on to write a ballad about the Boneless Mercies victory over the Blue Vee Beast, immortalizing them forever in the hearts and mind of the Vorse people. 

The writing is very powerful and the visual imagery fantastic. You all but taste the snow and wind, smell the fire and forests, feel the magic and melancholy. The book is also rampant with social commentary and yet not in-your-face about it, so hats off to the writer for pulling off that balance. There are themes of feminism, equality, justice, friendship, belonging and greater good knitted throughout but the messages are subtle, hidden between the lines and so intricately nuanced you don’t realize until one has wormed into your heart and silently cracked it.

There is strength in silence…  

The Boneless Mercies is a book that kept giving with every turn of the page. It’s the slowest book I’ve ever read because I was savoring each page and don’t want it to end. The words left me warm, the story nostalgic in the best of ways and left me wanting for more. The only complain I have is the lack of a map because I desperately need on right now! Vorse has got a hook in my soul and there’s no getting away from it now.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Priyasha says:

    Beautiful cover !!

    Liked by 1 person

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