Posted in [fiction reviews]

[Fiction Review] “The Boneless Mercies” by April Genevieve Tucholke

Full Title: The Boneless Mercies
Author: April Genevieve Tucholke
Published: October 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Fiction, YA Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, High Fantasy, Mythology Retold
Edition Details: 352 pages, trade paperback
Source: Purchased
Rating: {4/5 stars}

This review is spoiler free. No details will be shared from the storyline itself that aren’t available or inferred from the book jacket and online descriptions.

First Glance

This book has been on my TBR list for ages, but I kept putting it back in an effort to avoid buying too many new books when my pile of unread books is already unmanageable. And yet, when our local book club asked for suggestions on books to read, I immediately thought of this one. It gave me an excuse to finally buy it!

Positive Bits

This world is harsh but beautiful. The fact that the Mercies and their trade are needed, that people would pay to die at their hands, tells you something about the kind of reality they live in. And yet, each death we witness has its beauty. Even the deaths of “bad” people are done in such a way as to be a mercy killing, so that we walk away with the feeling that death is both a kindness and an inevitability.

I adored the variety of girls involved in the Mercies, particularly when their origins come out during the course of the story. Letting each girl be so different while remaining so close spoke to me, and they felt real compared to a gaggle of photocopy children running wild together. Each girl played an important role toward the finale of the story, all feeding into the plot with their actions. Juniper is my favorite from start to finish, particularly as her story is told.

The end left me both satisfied and a little sad. Without ruining it, I can only say that I had hoped each girl would get to make different choices for their futures after leaving behind the Mercies. More than once, though, we see them at a fork in the road without an obvious path to choose; as we follow them down their choice, we can see all of the potential futures they left behind. The fact that each choice feels like a reasonable one is what makes this book so good!

Less Enjoyable Bits

This book never mentioned that it’s a retelling of Norse mythology or a clever twist on Beowulf. The blurbs mention it, but I honestly skip blurbs on covers out of irritation; I prefer a proper book description rather than snippets of someone’s opinion. Honestly, the mythological tie-ins are a bonus rather than a notch against this book, but they should’ve been part of the marketing.

While it doesn’t bother me, the book does run light on the descriptive imagery. We get an introduction to each person and location with vaguely sketched lines, and then we move on with the plot. For some, that means more space for our imaginations to run amok. But for others, this might be an issue.

There’s a romantic subplot that’s woven throughout the book, only to have no real payout. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was a letdown. If it had been treated as a small detail, the lack of follow through would’ve been just fine. When it’s brought up often enough to feel very important, you kind of need to make something out of it by the ending. Added to that, there’s an almost sapphic energy between the Mercies that’s never explained or explored – another disappointment and, at least in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

Glory. I wanted to touch it. Taste it. I wanted it so deeply I thought my heart would swell up, claw its way out of me, and float away on the wind, cawing like a Sea Witch raven, a prayer caught in its beak.

I’d experienced joy before. Not often, but enough to know what it was, enough to ache for it late at night when I sat quietly beside the fire. Joy was different from peace, though. Peace was slower, calmer, and lasted longer. I hadn’t know this kind of tranquility could exist.

We didn’t speak. There was no need. I felt her heart against mine, and it sang the same sad song.

Is it worth the coin?

Yes – I will always recommend a good retelling of mythology or folktales! This weaving of magic and Norse-flavored myth is perfect for someone with little familiarity of the base materials.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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