Released in North America on July 30th, 2019, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen promised to be a powerful debut novel, filled to the brim with vengeance, survival, and sacrifice – perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.
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?
The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen certainly delivered, with Owen providing a breath-taking dark fantasy novel that was unafraid to tackle morally grey characters or systematic discrimination. What’s more, Owen proved herself capable of delivering a smoldering romance, fresh world-building, and stunning prose – all of which will surely leave readers pining for more of Fie, Jasimir, and Tavin’s story.
“Mercy was a Chief’s gift. Inflicting it was their duty.” – Margaret Owen, The Merciful Crow
While they are not the only characters to grace the pages of The Merciful Crow, Fie, Jasimir and Tavin are undoubtedly the central focus of Owen’s debut story, with their journey, their relationships, and their growth being front and center from beginning to end. Fie is a fierce character with honorable goals. She, like her fellow Crows, finds herself thrown into a fight that isn’t hers to begin with – a fight that could easily end with her dead. But despite impossible odds and terrifying foes, Fie stays the path and fully commits herself to achieving her goals, all without sacrificing the heart of who she is, and who she hopes to be. Tavin is funny and witty, but he grows to be so much more than just a too-cunning bodyguard with a penchant for trouble. He proves himself capable of great compassion, and as he finds his – and Jasimir’s – sheltered views challenged, he doesn’t combat the new worldviews presented to him. Instead, he learns to see the world through Fie’s eyes, and allows the Crows to challenge what he thought he knew. Jasimir, for his part, is as stubborn and righteous as Fantasy princes come – though, he too proves himself capable of growth and change as the story moves forward (albeit, more slowly than his bodyguard).
Beyond the characters, the reader will undoubtedly be drawn in by Owen’s stunning world-building – and her development of the magic system that, at its core, drives the characters motivations and the plot. While the caste system Owen employs is certainly not unique, it is well thought out – and it is executed flawlessly. The power struggles and social disparities between the classes are not simply talking points, but central to the plot, to the characters’ personalities, and to their growth as they navigate their harrowing journey. What’s more, the magic system is different in its execution – not simple witchery or spells, but teeth and bones and flame. Honestly, Owen’s in-depth exploration of Fie’s magic, and the magic of the other castes, almost makes the magic itself feel real. It makes the reader want to know more about the history of the magic and its people, and even how magic impacts the characters’ lives. Beyond the magic system, the world itself is stunning – a patchwork of shrines, villages, cities, fortresses and strongholds that Fie, the lordlings, and the Crows must navigate, both physically and socially, as they make their way through the world. Overall, the world-building in The Merciful Crow is slow but strong, with knowledge about magic, society, and the physical world revealed organically, without any knowledge dumps that overshadow the plot or character development.
“I can do something better with my life than die.” – Margaret Owen, The Merciful Crow
Finally, Owen’s masterful prose and storytelling are not to be overlooked. Right from the first pages of The Merciful Crow, the pacing is great, and even though at times the story slows down, the reader will never feel bored, because the spaces between the action are filled with world-building, intrigue, and romance – all things any fan of the genre is sure to love. Moreover, Owen is clearly a talented storyteller, who is able to easily weave together beautifully descriptive scenes and dialogue, wholly original characters, and fantastic action sequences. Owen’s writing felt different and unique from recent YA fantasy, but her writing was captivating all the same.
Overall, it is safe to say that once readers pick it up, they will not be able to put The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen down – nor will they be able to get the stunningly refreshing the story out of their heads (5/5).