The Boneless Mercies by April Tucholke
Simon and Schuster, 2018. ISBN 9781471170003
(Age: Mature 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: High Fantasy, Death. Certain to appeal to young adult fans of medieval epics, this macabre group of heroines will attract an even wider audience. In the male dominated Vorseland, orphaned girls who want escape life in a brothel could be apprenticed to black-cloaked mercy killers. A band of nomadic Boneless Mercies may be hired specifically to carry out assisted suicide for the terminally ill - with the exception of the occasional abusive husband or revenge kill. Aging Siggy's last apprentices: Frey, Ovie, Runa and Jupiter are skilled in both stealth and homicide. With Siggy gone, Frey leads the Mercies and one by one their pasts are revealed to their 17 yr old leader. Trigve is a tolerated travelling companion, but as a male he can never be a Mercy, a job for women only. 'Men will not do this sad, dark work.'
Without Siggy's guidance, the girls survive but despair of mercy killing - murdering children in particular. Alternatively, they seek glorious battles for their considerable skills and Frey leads her willing band on a series of noble quests. They renounce their trade with an initial goal to slay the Blue Vee monster and end the giant's carnage in Jarl Roth's northern kingdom. The reward money will give them all future security. On route to Blue Vee, they are side-tracked by further adventures; liberating the victims of evil Jarls, making deals with self-serving Sea witches and ending the malevolent reign of the powerful Cut-Queen.
Unlike other Mercy bands or the insular Sea Witches, Frey's group occasionally accept the comradery of worthy males who become embroiled in their battles. Inspired by the saga of Beowulf, these adolescent girls are clearly in charge. Frey's first-hand narration with an undercurrent of free love and extreme violence makes this a novel for mature readers. But a wise woman's universe has no absolutes - Frey never compromises her understanding of the complexity of the human condition, where destructive cycles are broken only by acknowledging all victims - including the monsters themselves.