The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen has been on my TBR for what feels like forever, and I’m glad I finally got to read it!
CONTENT WARNING: murder, dismemberment, plague
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 book started out with the Crows in what sounded an awful lot like Plague Doctor garb, while the Chief is inside performing a mercy killing. They deal with what’s called the Sinner’s Plague, and they’re the only one of 12 castes in the Kingdom that are immune to the plague that can wipe out an entire village in two days. The plot thickens quickly, when the bodies of the two boys (Prince Jasimir and Tavin) who were killed turn out not to be dead, or even sick, but escaping a web of danger within the royal court.
There’s a focus on class-based oppression, since as the lowest-ranked caste the Crows are the recipient of abuse and persecution. Each of the castes is named after a type of bird (Crows, Sparrows, Phoenix, etc.) and have a fixed standing in society. Each caste has their own birthright except for the Crows, who definitely got the short end of the stick all around. The other castes resent them, even while they need them to do their job.
“Mercy. They all wanted it, in the end. They wanted to hunt Crows, and they wanted to cut them to bits, and when they faced the Covenant’s judgment, they wanted the Crows to grant them a swifter, cleaner way out.”
I loved the magic system and the complex society that was created for this book. There’s LGBT characters and even a nonbinary character, but they aren’t a plot point — it’s stated more as a matter of fact, and I felt that it was done perfectly. There’s a kind of lovers to enemies trope, a slow-burn enemies to lovers trope, and clear discussion of consent, and all of these were done incredibly well (in my opinion).
As soon as I finished reading, I immediately checked to see when the next book is released. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that it isn’t coming out until JULY! Don’t let this hold you back from reading this book, though. It’s a real gem.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 12
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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