BookBrowse Reviews The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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The Boneless Mercies

by April Genevieve Tucholke

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke X
The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2018, 352 pages
    Apr 2020, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jordan Lynch
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About this Book



April Genevieve Tucholke presents a gender-bent retelling of Beowulf centered around mythical monsters, grandiose magic, and a group of girls who deal in death but dream of something more.

The Mercies are assassins, part of a long tradition of killers who serve to end the suffering of the elderly and infirm in Vorseland. It's a thankless job, a far cry from the heroism of the old sagas, the stories of monsters and battle told to honor the warriors of the past. But Frey, the group's leader, has glory on her mind, and when she hears rumors of a terrifying creature called the Blue Vee Beast slaughtering people in a nearby town, she believes this is her chance to be remembered. The Boneless Mercies is an epic fantasy filled with fierce heroines, strong friendships, and a quest for greatness.

The friendship between Frey and her fellow Mercies, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa, may be the book's greatest strength. They come from very different places and have very different personalities, but they've found a family in each other. Like a family, they have their disagreements, but they accept and support one another. As the strain of the mercy killings pushes the girls to their emotional limits, they make the decision together to use their skills to go after the Blue Vee Beast. Each has a different reason for wanting to defeat the beast, but they're a team, and they need each other to succeed. Their friendships are realistic and moving; there are moments of joy and laughter, as well as tension and anger, but there's a true sense of camaraderie underlying it all, and this quest brings them closer together in a way that their roles as Mercies never did. The adventure gives them a chance to become heroes of legend, or die trying.

While the girls pursue glory through one monumental act, the work they perform as Mercies is heroic in its own way. Though killing those already close to death does not gain them notoriety or earn them much money, the gratitude of those who hire them to provide a quick and merciful end for their suffering loved ones demonstrates the importance of their role in this society. Carrying out this difficult work brings the Mercies deep personal pain, however, and this pain motivates them to pursue a different path. It's Ovie that breaks first; faced with killing a brave young boy suffering from a skin-eating disease, she finds she's reached her limit for death and declares that she'd rather kill herself than continue serving as a Mercy. Once Ovie confesses, the other Mercies follow suit. Although selfless Juniper reminds them that they're helping people in pain, they know they won't make enough money to survive through the harsh Vorseland winters without taking on jobs involving children, and that reality brings more sorrow than the girls can bear. Suddenly faced with an unplanned future, the former Mercies vote on where they should go, and west to the Blue Vee Beast wins.

The story delivers plenty of action and monster-slaying, but the pace of the narrative is relatively slow. Rather than being boring, though, this methodical plotting allows Tucholke to create an elaborate world filled with a rich mythology of monsters, wars, and sea witches. It also allows the reader to get to know the characters deeply, and to discover how their different backgrounds are important to their quest. The protracted set-up pays off in the explosive ending, where the Mercies get to truly put their skills to the test and see if they have what it takes to slay the beast. The individual storylines wrap up nicely, but there are a few details that could potentially foreshadow a sequel or a companion novel. Nonetheless, The Boneless Mercies stands strong on its own two feet, and is filled with enough folklore, fighting, and girl power to satisfy any adventure-seeking reader.

Editor's Note: April Genevieve Tucholke's companion novel to The Boneless Mercies published on April 28, 2020. It is called Seven Endless Forests, and it is a fantasy retelling of the legend of King Arthur.

Reviewed by Jordan Lynch

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2018, and has been updated for the May 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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