Title: The Merciful Crow
Series: The Merciful Crow #1
Author: Margaret Owen
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: July 30th, 2019 (Henry Holt and Co. BYR)
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?
Thank you to the publisher, Henry Holt and Co. BYR, and Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this book.
The Merciful Crow introduces us to the kingdom of Sabor which is split into twelve castes named after various birds. Each caste has a birthright, a sort of affinity. The Crow caste, having no affinity, rank at the bottom of society, and are generally mistreated, looked down on and even hunted by some. As the only caste immune to the fatal Sinner’s Plague, the Crows’ job is to act as a sort of mercy killers for those infected and safely dispose of the bodies. Fie, a future Crow chieftain, finds herself caught up in a conspiracy when, on their latest assignment, the bodies they are hauling away are not only alive, but the Crown Prince Jasimir of Sabor escaping the palace and his stepmother, Queen Rhusana, with his bodyguard Tavin in tow. Fie ends up striking a binding deal with the prince – in return for delivering him safely to his allies, the prince will assure the protection of the Crows when he takes the throne.
Hats off to this book for the excellent world-building, not to mention how original it was! For how complex this universe was, The Merciful Crow did a wonderful job of avoiding the dreaded info dump. It did take some time to understand, and there are still a lot of questions I have from this aspect. If actually wielding birthrights are limited to the witches of each caste, then apart from those specific people, what stops someone from choosing to be another caste, or even identifies them as being born into a particular caste? I might have missed something here since I kind of speed read this book, but this really should have been explained better. Also, if certain Crows, also known as bone witches, can harness any birthright temporarily using teeth and bones, it seems odd that they would be at the bottom of society with the potential of so much power – or perhaps odd that a caste that is discriminated against is allowed to have access to this kind of power.
Fie is an excellent heroine, spirited, strong-willed, brave and true to her values and duty as a Crow. I didn’t like Jas initially, as he was more of a spoiled prince, but he has the best arc of the three. As he learns the reality of the situation in his kingdom and how the Crows are treated, he becomes determined to keep his oath and change things. Tavin on the other hand, was my favourite from the very beginning, even more so as we get to know his past, and he is definitely not the side character he initially appears to be.
There is one central villain, but it is very odd that we neither see nor hear from her directly for the entire book. I expected Rhusana to show up atleast towards the end, which is, in my experience, typically when the villain makes their first appearance in a series. I’m also rather curious to learn more about the other castes, as, by the end of the book, we’ve largely learnt only about the Crows and a little of the Hawks through Tavin.
The Merciful Crow is definitely on the darker side for YA, but it is very well written in that it touches on some very important issues like prejudice and discrimination. It was such a pleasant change of pace that the girl falls for the bodyguard rather than the prince, and even better that this whole plotline took a backseat to everything else. Overall, this was an interesting read, and I was pretty impressed with it. Highly recommended for fantasy fans!
The Merciful Crow releases on July 30th, 2019.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!
Other reviews in this series:
Book 2: The Faithless Hawk