This book turned out to be nothing like what I expected, which was actually a really good thing! I thought it would be fairly generic YA, with girl assassins and possibly a love triangle, but what I actually got was an ancient saga in novel form, told from the perspective of an unlikely, and somewhat unwilling, group of heroes. It stunned me.
Book: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided by NetGalley for fair review. All opinions my own.
For a book about a group of female assassins, who go by the name Boneless Mercies and offer their services for mercy killings, there’s not an actual lot of assassination in this book. I mean, sure, there’s some – the characters have a fairly casual relationship with death, so if you don’t like graphic on-page deaths, this book may not be for you. But the majority of this book is actually about this particular band of Mercies who get caught up in political machinations and the slaying of an epic beast. The girls (and their one male friend) set out to kill a monster, but discover along the way that war is looming, and they themselves may be unwittingly instrumental to the course of history.
There are Norse and Northern European mythological influences aplenty in this book, and indeed, it seems at times to take place in a world with some overlap with our own. This really helps create that sort of immortal saga-esque feeling to it, where you can see glimpses of history through the fantasy. The slaying of the beast brings Beowulf to mind, and though I’m not particularly familiar with the Edda stories, I feel like someone who was would spot more references than I managed to! However, this is not a book which glorifies heroism. The lives that the girls lead are difficult and dark, and the book doesn’t shy away from this (though it isn’t really grimdark, just realistic).
I thought that The Boneless Mercies was beautifully written, and something in the way that the scenes rolled out was just pitch perfect for the epic tradition. The fact that it’s almost a ‘behind-the-scenes’ of a legend just really worked for me. I appreciated the almost anti-climactic battle scenes, and the sense that tiny decisions could influence the way that the world turned – it creates a sense of magic and wonder at the same time as it undermines itself. I didn’t think that we really got to know the characters all that well, which again, just worked to create this excellent overall tone. Some readers may see these as flaws – and indeed, I might, had I been in a different mood while reading this – but it struck the right chord with me at the right time, so it gets five cats.