The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen (The Merciful Crow #1)
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co. (Fierce Reads)
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Available Through The Book Depository: The Merciful Crow
Summary: 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?
*Received ARC from Yallwest*
My Rating:★★★☆☆ ¾
My Thoughts: The Merciful Crow is a YA Fantasy debut that takes readers on an adventure following future chieftain Fie, a runaway prince, and his bodyguard as they travel across Sabor to save Fie’s fellow Crows! The setting’s atmosphere and cast of characters will keep readers immersed in this action-filled debut that presents a unique magic system and intriguing politics that build as the story develops!
The Merciful Crow was one of those debuts I knew I just had to read! I was really looking forward to the story not only because it had a really unique concept, but also I’d seen so many positive reviews and that had me even more excited to check it out!
Though Owen’s debut wasn’t a 5-star read for me, it still had a lot of elements that I enjoyed and that I’ll be exploring more in-depth!
From the opening pages featuring a Caste Legend, I knew I was going to be immersed in a distinct fantasy world unlike any I’d really read before!
The world of Sabor is divided into 5 different castes which all have separate classes within them, all named after different birds (Peacock, Swan, Dove, Hawk, and Vulture, to name a few), with Phoenix being the highest caste.
Among these castes, people are all born with a Birthright that gives them a specialized skill or affinity (for example, the Vulture caste has an affinity for hunting). Crows, however have no affinities or skills, so they must take teeth of the dead from other castes to perform magic. Crows are also the only ones with the unique ability to defend themselves against the Sinner’s Plague, a deadly disease that can wipe out entire cities within days. However, even with this life-saving ability, they are still treated poorly by the other castes.
We follow Fie, future chieftain of the Crows, who travels across the land with her band who deliver mercy killings to those struck with illness. When the Crows find themselves at the royal palace that’s been struck by the plague, it’s just another average day. However what we quickly learn is that 2 boys have recently been struck with the illness, and one of them is the crown prince.
It turns out however, crown prince Jasimir and his Hawk bodyguard Tavin, were actually using that as a cover to escape the royal palace, because the queen Rhusana is trying to get rid of him.
As the two join Fie’s Crows, they agree to a pact that will offer the Crow’s lifelong protection from the assassins and castes loyal to the crown, such as the Oleanders and Vultures, who don’t give much thought to how they’re treated.
The Crows do a very important job within this world, but are still seen as outsiders in a society that at the end of the day relies on them, as the illness continues to spread.
The setting and atmosphere of Sabor, with its dense forests, stone infrastructure, traveling bands of friends and family, together painted for me, a picture of an early century Europe. This image I had in my mind definitely wasn’t by accident because, according to a recent article from Tor where Owen discusses the inspiration for The Merciful Crow, she states that she was inspired by the history of executioners of Medieval Europe!
“One of the most overt parallels is the ostracization of historical executioners and that faced by our heroine, Fie. For background, Fie belongs to a caste known as the Crows, who are not quite executioners, but may as well be: they are immune to a fast and terminal illness called the Sinner’s Plague, one that is believed only to initially infect people as divine punishment. The Crows are expected to remove the infected, mercy-killing them if need be, and give them funeral rites. Like executioners of old, they may not hand out the sentence, but it’s their duty to carry it out…”
Owen explored the dynamics between Crows and their societal standing extremely well, where you sense that tension (and division) between castes throughout the entirety of the book. You can see how the politics of each caste and especially treatment of the Crows is built with so many layers/threads that definitely leave for more exploration in the sequel!
When Fie’s tight-knit group of Crows are taken, she embarks on a journey with the help of Tavin and Jasimir to get them back. However with a pact ensuring future protection for the Crows, she tries not to lose hope even as they avoid the Oleanders, trackers, and monstrous ghasts that chase them at every turn!
While the fantasy world of Sabor was distinct and that’s something I really loved about it, I wish there was further development of this vast setting as the story progressed. We focus on the Crows, Vultures, and Hawks (mainly) and while we definitely get glimpses into each caste, I felt there just wasn’t enough information to really connect me to the world fully–pockets of this world seemed to be missing and because of that I didn’t feel such a strong connection to the world in its entirety.
As for plot, while I do enjoy journey stories (which this one definitely is), I did find that the team jumped around from one spot to another a bit too quickly. Because new locations were introduced every few pages with very brief descriptions and then moved onto a new place, I felt lost as to where the Crows were headed exactly, early on.
I will say though, what I enjoyed about the journey that Fie, Jas, & Tavin embark on together was how with each new location, it did layer more of the politics and perspective of different castes within the world–I just wish it was more developed.
One of my favorite parts about The Merciful Crow was the dynamic between the main trio! Jas and Tavin had grown up together and as Fie learns more about them, we see how strong their bond really is. While it does seem that Fie has more page-time with Tavin, I liked that Owen weaved in a good amount of development with both of the guys and we learn a lot about their fears and hopes for their own futures and of the world!
Owen’s writing really highlights how wonderfully developed she makes her characters and I really appreciated that! As I continue to read more YA Fantasy, I realize that I also try to find that connection to the cast–the dynamic of Fie, Tavin, and Jas brings a lot of great energy to the story and was a definite highlight of The Merciful Crow!
Fie is a character who’s fierce and loyal to her caste. While it can seem like there isn’t much more explored beyond that, its the little moments in the journey she embarks on, where you see bits of her character shine through.
Jas is a royal prince who jumps at the chance to bring change to his world, especially the Crows! His deal with the Crows, alongside joining them to reach his forces deep in Sabor, takes him on his own journey outside his lavish palace as he sees more of the outside world he’s planning to one day lead!
Then there’s Tavin, Jas’s protector along this journey! As he connects more with Fie, we learn while he’s well aware that he’s in Jas’s shadow, he also fears the uncertainty of where that duty will end and he can begin! I really loved his character arc and felt it explored so much about identity and forging your own path when you feel one has already been laid out!
The writing while immersive and descriptive, just didn’t flow well with the constant starts and pauses in the journey. Through 3rd person, there’s good glimpses into each character and I really appreciated that! However, when it came to the world itself, I still felt a bit distant from it and found the exploration of the setting (either new or previously explored), seemed to be a bit surface level and felt it could been more developed.
While the writing successfully creates a unique atmosphere for the setting, if I were to look at just the writing itself, I found it was a bit generic–descriptive when it needed to be, but in the end it was quite hard to find that special element that also made it stand out alongside the story.
Aside from those critiques though, I’m personally really looking forward to seeing more of how the characters develop in the sequel! They are what kept me reading and I can’t wait to see where their journeys take them next!
The Merciful Crow is an atmospheric fantasy debut that introduces a unique and immersive world! Fie embarks on a journey to save her people and along the way, gather the wisdom to determine if she’s ready to be the chieftain her people need! If your a fan of character-driven journey stories, Owen’s debut is one to check out!
Today I’m also shouting out a fellow book blogger’s review 😍💕📚
The Merciful Crow ARC Review from Sab over at Vengeance & Starlight
We follow each other on twitter & for a while I’d been seeing all her lovely tweets talking about this book! She goes into discussion of a couple topics I wasn’t able to cover much in my review such as the oppression of the Crows and the interesting change in writing voice as the story progresses! 💞
Overall she gave this book 5 stars and as I read her review I could feel the love she has for this delightful book from the characters to the world and how everything ties together! If you need more convincing to check out Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow, check out her wonderful review!