The Merciful Crow
By Margaret Owen
Published July 30, 2019 by Henry Holt
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?
In a world where her caste is the lowest of the low, teenager Fie has to learn to lead her band of crows in the face of danger, prejudice, and an elaborate plot involving an evil queen.
The Merciful Crow has really interesting world building. There is an elaborate caste system, and the Crow caste is at the bottom. They live on the road, going from town to town to dispose of (and sometimes mercy kill) those who have died of the plague. They’re stuck with this task because they’re the only caste who is immune to the disease. They’re in constant danger from the Oleanders, a group of bigots that wants to eliminate the Crows (which makes you wonder who would then take care of the plague dead, but I guess hate groups aren’t known for their rational thinking). Fie’s band of crows are called to the capital to dispose of two plague bodies, but they find instead a live prince and his bodyguard. In return for better treatment when the prince becomes king, the crows agree to get him away from the city and his wicked stepmother who wants him dead. Fie ends up on a long, dangerous journey journey with the prince (Jasimir) and the bodyguard (Tavin).
Where this book really worked for was the detailed and immersive world building. It felt very real. It’s also a really well done examination of a very hierarchical class structure and the sort of prejudices and issues that develop in such a rigid structure. I also enjoyed the relationships of Fie and the prince and the bodyguard as she develops a grudging alliance with one and an unexpected romance with the other. Where the book didn’t work for me was the pacing. After an exciting start, I found that things dragged in the middle, and there was a lot of repetitive sequences of the trio almost, but not quite, getting caught.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, and I will be back for the sequel.
I received an ARC from the publisher through Amazon Vine.