“On nights you burn sinners, sleep with your sandals on.”
A future chieftain.
Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.
A fugitive prince.
When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.
A too-cunning bodyguard.
Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?
CW: loss of a loved one, violence, gore, graphic injury, sex scene, child abuse
I hadn’t originally scheduled The Merciful Crow into my TBR until closer to 2020, but when Fierce Reads scheduled a tour stop near me, I knew I had to burn through this before I went, unless I wanted to go meet four authors whose books I hadn’t read.
I preferred to meet three authors whose books I hadn’t read, and one that I did.
Of course, that meant blazing through The Merciful Crow the day of the tour stop, charging ahead at a breakneck pace so I could say something other than “can’t wait to read it!” while standing in the signing line. And boy, am I SO GLAD that I did!
There’s a lot of things about The Merciful Crow for me to adore, but at the top of the list is easily Fie. The main character, Fie is a member of the Crow caste, people who are responsible for removing and burning the bodies of those killed by the Sinner’s Plague. Though Crows provide an essential service, as bodies unclaimed will spread the plague quickly, they’re also the lowest caste, treated with complete contempt especially where the upper castes are concerned. It’s no wonder, then, that Fie is a sharp, clever, furious girl, and that in turn makes it no wonder that I love her.
It’s no secret that stabby girls are one of my favorite character types, but Fie takes this to the next level. Every day, she endures so much and fights tooth and nail to survive in a world that doesn’t care about her for a second, but there’s also only so much she can do by herself. She’s brilliant, negotiating payment for the Crows’ services, with an uncanny sharpness, but she’s also stuck, lacking the resources to make a significant change in the world’s social structure.
Through Fie, The Merciful Crow digs into what happens to the people that society both needs and doesn’t care about, and what happens when they start to find a way to put change into motion. Really, that alone has me over the moon for the sequel, because that’s going to be a major factor in the plot progression going forward.
Of course, the characters are getting me plenty excited as well! Besides Fie, I’m eager to see more of Tavin (who developed fantastically once we see him open up in personality and willingness to actually see the injustice in the world), and I’m hoping Jasimir will develop further, since he’s hardly my favorite but also has the potential to be very, very interesting should he make some changes.
Also, I wanna see Barf the cat again. She’s a very good cat who has somehow NOT DIED, and I hope we’ll get more of her in the future. Hell, I hope she’s extra important. Only the best for Fie’s cat.
And speaking of characters, I do have to mention that not only is the enemies to lovers set-up absolutely CHOICE (did anyone call for that with a side of “I’m perfectly fine and unhurt and uh oh I just collapsed and you caught me” hurt/comfort, AND no shame from either party about their relationship?), but the queer rep left me so pleased. Tavin is bisexual, Jasimir is gay, one of the minor character Crows is nonbinary, using they/them, and the language was by and large inclusive. I’m always thrilled to see that, especially in fantasy, ESPECIALLY when there’s no homophobia or transphobia accompanying it, and I’m hoping we’ll get to see even more with the sequel.
Lastly, though, I have to give a huge shout-out to the prose, because WOW. Only about three chapters in, I had CHILLS from one of the scenes (yes, it was the money dance, thanks for asking). There’s something so sharp and powerful about the way Molly Owen has put pen to the page, and The Merciful Crow is stunningly vivid for it. It’s easy to envision every single scene as a result, and I’m completely enamored with the style of it. Absolutely a gift.
And I suppose I can’t just end this without tossing a theory out there: of all the castes we see in the novel, the Dove caste is suspiciously absent from the chain of events. I can’t say I have any concrete theories about what this means, but I’ve certainly got my eyes peeled for any hints of their future role. When the other eleven castes are explored at length and encountered regularly, that kind of absence is suspicious… But we’ll just have to see, won’t we? 👀
At the end of the day, this is the best I can tell you: read The Merciful Crow. It’s eviscerating in the best of ways, and deserves a home on your favorites shelf if you like stabby girls and explorations of injustice in fantasy settings. And, of course, if you like fire. Because while I haven’t mentioned it before, there’s plenty of it at hand, and little of it kind. A fun magic system indeed, those magic teeth…