Title: The Merciful Crow
(The Merciful Crow #1)
Author: Margaret Owen
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt (BYR)
Publish Date: July 30, 2019
Violence, Death, Dismemberment,
Burning, Kidnapping, Torture,
Betrayal, Self-Harm, Sexual Abuse
Pansexual, Non-Binary, POC, Gay
So as you guys saw, I read this book for the Coffee Break Book Club group on Goodreads (I was actually one of the discussion leaders for this book and I’m now a co-moderator for it!) and I finally freaking finished the book last night. I can’t wait to finish discussing the book with the group before we start our December read. I was holding off on reading this for some reason – I don’t know, but also I don’t think my library has a copy of this because I ended up buying it for book club – but I’m glad I did end up getting to read it before 2019 was out.
- Wait…. are they actual birds or…
- That’s an interesting first name. It’s a first in a YA book for me, or ever.
- Oh wait it’s an actual word? Let me look it up.
- Hmm I don’t really know what I think about it but I’m excited to start!
Crows = Untouchables
From the very beginning, before we even read the novel, the Crows are seen as the lowest caste be a part of, and don’t even have a “birthright” given to them from the Gods. Based on some of the discussion that we had, we were reminded of the caste system in India, and for me the Crows reminded me of the lowest caste in that system. In this world, the Crows don’t have any special power except that they are somehow immune from the Sinner’s plague, and have a duty to rid the plague from any village that has someone succumb to it. The effects of the Sinner’s plague can spread so quickly through a village, and the Crows are the only ones that can safely remove the afflicted body without catching it. Actually, the untouchables weren’t even part of the caste system, so that’s how little respect that anyone had for them.
It honestly angered me so much that every single caste in this world just felt like the Crows were trash, could be hunted down by the Oleanders and killed without mercy, even though they did nothing wrong. And they were expected to give those suffering from the curse mercy so they could die a swift death. They were forced to answer every summon for the curse and if they didn’t they would be punished by the Covenant. It was wrong, and I hated it so much. I felt so bad for the Crows, and could understand Fie’s anger.
Duty above all
Fie, Jas and Tavin all had a duty that they had to live by before anything else. In everything that they did, they put that duty above everything when making a decision, even if it was something that they didn’t want to do. Fie’s duty was to be a worthy Crow Chief for her people, doing everything that her father taught her to lead her people. Jas is meant to be the Phoenix King and rule over Sabor as a just and fair ruler, but also knows that his father is not impressed or seems to love and care about him. He also is at a disadvantage because he is very ignorant about what is going on in his kingdom besides what he is told. Tavin is Jas’s bodyguard, and is sworn to protect Jas at all costs, even if it means him dying in the process. But he doesn’t want to live out a life where he’s not able to live or do anything for himself. I think during this journey they learned that not everything they could do could be done out of duty, and sometimes they had to make decisions for themselves.
I feel like all three of our main characters went through some really great development. One of the ones that I was proud of the most was Jas. We met him where he just had no idea what was really going on in Sabor, especially not knowing what was happening to the Crows by the Oleanders and even just the other Castes. He thinks that it’s the Crows fault for being treated the way that they are and that he’s too good to live as a Crow while he’s basically on the run. But by the time the novel is over, I feel like he was able to take in what Fie taught him – even if she had to be pretty harsh about it because duh he was a hard head – and seemed to want to make a real change in Sabor once he took control. Hopefully even before since he shouldn’t just wait until he becomes King when there are Crows dying today.
Like I was mentioning above, I was angry for the Crows. I understood Fie’s anger and disgust whenever Tavin or Jas would be flippant about what was happening outside of their little palace shelter. I would have been pissed at them too and called them out on it if I were her. I felt a little lost at times because not all of the information is given to us about things like the Covenant or what the Sinner’s Plague really is. Other than that, I was pretty excited to get through this one and I feel like it was because I had a really engaging partner of discussion in the book club – only like three of us were really talking in the thread even though it’s one of the books of the month so yeah.
The plot and pacing were pretty good. I felt like they matched up nicely. I just didn’t really like the prose, and that was really because of the old style type of writing. It made sense for the kind of setting that this book took place in, but it just kept annoying me. I did my best though. I think when we were talking about it, we were mostly annoyed by the use of “betwixt” and “ken” or something like that. Either “ken” or “keen”. I don’t remember.
We actually had a few discussion questions during the month but since a lot of them dealt with spoilers and were asked after certain chapters, I won’t add them all. I’ll list some of them here though and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you so desire.
All in all, not a bad read. It worked out as a group read for me, even though it really did pretty much take me the whole month to get through this. I just tried to put other books as priority and for some reason I wasn’t fully concentrating on this one. I am definitely excited to see what ends up happening in the second one though, and I’m seriously hoping that Fie and Tavin actually get to see each other again more than what they think.
6 thoughts on “The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen”
I’ve heard a lot said about the vernacular choice of the author and I can get how that might be jarring for a while. For me, as a fantasy novel I’m not sure how well the magic system played out but that wasn’t the important part of the book. I know that sounds odd being it is a fantasy novel. I think, for me, what I focused on in my review goes back to what kept pulling you in emotionally. The themes around social justice really hit home.
I think the author just did that piece so well. How that was interwoven through the plot without banging you over the head and yet still definitely showing it clearly was definitely done with — I don’t know how to put it other than like with the precision of a surgeon instead of wielding an axe. That is very trite, I know but it is all I have… lol. So where it might have lacked as a fantasy novel it set itself apart in other extraordinary ways.
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For me the magic system wasn’t too bad honestly. I mean for me it wasn’t the main part of the novel either and I think I was just annoyed that the Crows didn’t get a magical birthright for something that didn’t even seem like was really their fault. It just didn’t feel fair lol. But I mean it wasn’t terrible so I didn’t hold it against my enjoyment of the novel. Some of the birthrights & powers could have been up for interpretation for me, but I think seeing them in action helped me understand them better.
I totally agree that the themes surrounding social justice were done well enough to elicit some sort of emotional response from me, and I think it was well done on Owen’s part. I’m curious to see if there are any significant changes made to Sabor in the next one. And how far apart the events in the two novel will be.
Your whole first paragraph feeds right into your point as to how Owen’s feeds so well into the themes of the book. And you are right. It is so emotionally charged and well done. I’m guessing the magic system will play out more in the second book.
Ooooh I hadn’t even thought about the time jump possibility. Now you have me wondering
Great thorough review, Leelynn! I actually don’t think I’ve seen many reviews for this one although before it came out, the hype was pretty insane! I wasn’t sure if I’d be interested in reading it but after reading your review, I think I definitely am! Onto the TBR list it goes 😂 Indeed, the caste system is truly awful and it’s maddening to think how people can feel so entitled because of who they were born as, and so happily suppress and degrade a group of people who have done nothing wrong, but were just born into a lower caste; or to a group who aren’t even considered worthy of a caste. 😔 Truly awful… I enjoyed your reflection on it though!
Thank you so much for sharing my review Leelynn! 💖 Your review highlights one of my favorite parts of the book which was the characters and their development! For future books in the series, I’ll really only be reading for its main crew b/c one of my cons was that although the writing was solid, I felt there was nothing about it that matched the epicness of the story (if that makes sense 😂), its descriptive when it needs to be, but it didn’t stand out too much. Great review!