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Cover image for The boneless mercies
The boneless mercies
First edition.
New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018.
Physical Description:
339 pages ; 24 cm
"Four female mercenaries known as Boneless Mercies, weary of roaming Vorseland, ignored and forgotten until they are needed for mercy killings, decide to seek glory by going after a legendary monster in this reimagining of Beowulf."--Publisher's description.


Call Number
Tucholke, A.

On Order



*A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year*
* A Barnes & Noble Best YA Book of the Year*

Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are the Boneless Mercies--girls hired to kill quickly, quietly, and mercifully. But Frey is weary of the death trade and, having been raised on the heroic sagas of her people, dreams of a bigger life.

When she hears of an unstoppable monster ravaging a nearby town, Frey decides this is the Mercies' one chance out. The fame and fortune of bringing down such a beast would ensure a new future for all the Mercies. In fact, her actions may change the story arc of women everywhere.

Full of fierce girls, bloodlust, tenuous alliances, and unapologetic quests for glory, this elegantly spun tale challenges the power of storytelling--and who gets to be the storyteller. Perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater, V.E. Schwab, and Heidi Heilig.

Author Notes

April Genevieve Tucholke is the author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Between the Spark and the Burn, and Wink Poppy Midnight. She also selected the stories for the Slasher Girls and Monster Boys anthology.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 6

School Library Journal Review

Gr 8 Up-When 17-year-old Frey decides to seek glory and kill the Blue Vee beast, she embarks on a life-altering journey. Along with her companions, she leaves behind her work as a Boneless Mercy, giving reprieve to those in anguish using death. Frey travels through the lands of the Sea Witches and the Red Willow Marsh while navigating the complex political and sometimes dangerous world of the Vorse. Frey's quest is fraught with peril, but with her companions by her side and her thirst for glory, nothing will stop her from killing the Blue Vee Monster. This is a gender-flipped retelling of the epic poem Beowulf. Tucholke uses mythology and fantasy elements to create a rich and compelling tale based on the Old English poem. The hero's journey is a major theme throughout. Frey embodies the pursuit of glory through quest to become a hero remembered in story and myth. Fans of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings will find similar themes and elements. This is a must-have for avid fantasy readers who enjoy action-packed plots. VERDICT An excellent choice for any YA fantasy collections.-Meaghan Nichols, ASI Heritage, Ont. © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this evocative fantasy loosely inspired by Beowulf, four young women who have devoted their lives to ritual mercy killing as "Mercies" or "Boneless Mercies" decide to give up that sad, dark work in favor of more satisfying pursuits: honor, glory, and a chance at appearing in legend. In order to earn enough money to do as they will, 17-year-old Frey and her companions swear a blood oath to slay the fabled Blue Vee Beast, which cyclically terrorizes a local jarldom. As the Mercies journey across Vorseland, threats and temptations test them repeatedly, and they must choose between quiet safety and death-defying heroism. Frey's fittingly lyrical voice narrates her band's exploits ("The marsh was death, and this was life. Apple liquor on the tongue, drying herbs scenting the air"). Tucholke (Wink Poppy Midnight) injects close intimacy into her lush saga, interweaving love and murder, mercy and glory into her portrayal of life and death. It is a beautiful, haunting modern-day epic that stars a bold and resourceful sisterhood of heroines unafraid to claim agency. Ages 12-up. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. (Oct.) c Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

In a fantasy world inspired by Norse sagas and Beowulf, Frey and her pack of mercy-killers roam Vorseland freely, bringing a death-of-choice to the old or ill, performing the occasional vengeance killing on request. But Frey longs for a life that will earn her fame and glory in future sagas, so when she and her fellow Mercies learn that a bloodthirsty beast is decimating a distant jarldom, they leave the death trade to become warriors and destroy the monster. Tucholke writes in unadorned prose, with plenty of physical description and visual language (I knifed her father as he pissed that night outside the tavern, a harsh slash to the gut; Thick muscles rippled under her worn wool tunic). Freys earnest narrative voice creates a strong sense of the center of this fantasy: female solidarity. Bodily closeness, a shared quest for justice, and sheer joy in physical capacity are only part of it: collaboration and attentive respect are the true underpinning of Tucholkes creation. This is the quiet force behind a plot of conquest and adventure, and of the diverse religions, cultures, terrains, and tales that make up Tucholkes invented world. A dark and vivid story, with what-happens-next? momentum. deirdre f. baker (c) Copyright 2018. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

In this saga inspired by the ancient tale of "Beowulf" our hero is a 17-year-old death-trader named Frey.Silver-haired Frey is the leader of a band of Boneless Mercies, women who roam the land bringing relief to the sick and the old. Frey's sister Mercies are greenish-blond-haired Sea Witch Juniper, markswoman Runa, and reserved, stoic Ovie. The only male, Trigve, is a healer. The life of a Mercy is uneventful; she performs her death work, gets paid, and moves on. Once a deceased Mercy passes out of living memory, she disappears into obscurity. But Frey wants more than that. She wants bards to immortalize her in song. She wants glory, and if she dies seeking it, so be it. Her chance comes when she decides to pursue the legendary Blue Vee beast, a creature that decimates entire villages. Blue Vee's jarl (king) has lost half his warriors to the beast, but Frey is confident that she and the Mercies can bring the creature down. The monetary reward for doing so will allow them to leave Mercy-killing behind. Narrator and protagonist Frey is quite unusual among female heroes: hungry for glorybloodthirsty, evenbut still likable. These fierce, honorable adolescent female warriors hold their own and break all the rules. Marked by flawless worldbuildingeven though it's still a man's worldthe book is set in an alternate Scandinavia and assumes a white default.Wow. (Fantasy. 12-adult) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

In a world where ballads are sung and ancient sagas told at the hearth, five young women earn their place in Vorse history by seeking glory where men have failed: fighting the Blue Vee Beast. If Vorse sounds familiar, then Finmark, Holhalla, and Valkree should confirm that Tucholke is deliberately evoking Norse culture in her feminist retelling of Beowulf. Seventeen-year-old Frey and her companions are Boneless Mercies, itinerant women hired to kill those who suffer. It is depressing work, and when they hear a plea to save a kingdom from a murderous beast, they quit the death trade to undertake the challenge. Most of the narrative unfolds as the five Mercies journey to Blue Vee, encountering danger, magic, and tests to their bond of sisterhood. Tucholke creates a strong sense of the young women both as individuals and a caring, democratic unit, and the varied world they travel is thoughtfully unfurled. Knowledge of Beowulf isn't necessary to appreciate this story, which heroically contemplates female strength and agency, compassion versus vengeance, and the value of glory.--Julia Smith Copyright 2018 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Beowulf' get a fresh look. Three fairy tales become a tale of two magical sisters. IF THERE'S ONE staple of entertainment these days, it's the adaptation. TV shows are drawing inspiration from books ("My Brilliant Friend" and "The Haunting of Hill House"). Movies are reinventing treasures of the past, sometimes from a studio's own vault (looking at you, Disney). And novels, especially ones for the young adult audience, are reworking classic stories that came before them. These three novels put a contemporary twist on canonical tales about young people facing the challenges of building their own futures. IBI ZOBOI'S CHARMING PRIDE (Balzer + Bray, 304 pp., $17.99; ages 12 and up) isn't an adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice" so much as a "remix" of Jane Austen's tale of unexpected love, as the novel's cover says. Instead of Elizabeth, we meet Zuri, a high school student living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She has her life mapped out: When she graduates, Zuri wants to go to Howard University, where she hopes to collect the "wisdoms found in old, dusty books written by wrinkled brown hands ... and take them with me back home to sprinkle all over Bushwick like rain showers." Boys aren't a part of the plan. That all changes when the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street. Darius Darcy, their aloof son, quickly becomes Zuri's nemesis. But despite a rough start, Zuri and Darius soon find a relationship brewing. "Pride" winks continually at its source material: Instead of the "Bennet" family, we meet the "Benetiz" family, "Jane" becomes "Janae," "Lady Catherine de Bourgh" becomes "paternal grandmother, Mrs. Catherine Darcy" and so on. One pleasure of the book, then, is watching how the blistering romance between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy maps onto characters so different from Austen's original creations. Yet that steadfast loyalty to Austen is also the biggest hurdle the book faces. By adhering so closely to the plotting of its source material, "Pride" can be a bit predictable, even to readers with only a cursory knowledge of "Pride and Prejudice." Instead, the more compelling and unexpected romance of the novel is not the courtship between Zuri and Darius: It's the love story between Zuri and her home, a neighborhood threatened by gentrification. Rather than simply say gentrification is bad, "Pride" holds a nuanced conversation about the ways that an influx of wealth can dismantle a neighborhood and help it at the same time, as seen through the eyes of a girl who must navigate that change. "My neighborhood is made of love," Zuri notes. "But it's money and buildings and food and jobs that keep it alive - and even I have to admit that the new people moving in, with their extra money and dreams, can sometimes make things better." What she wants is to "figure out a way to make both sides of Bushwick work." It is that story - the story of an ambitious girl struggling to cherish her home, even in the face of change - that gives "Pride" its spark and its heart. RATHER THAN REVISITING a classic tale of love, THE BONELESS MERCIES (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 352 pp., $18.99; ages 12 and up), by April Genevieve Tticholke, goes the opposite route: It explores death, war and glory by adapting "Beowulf." The book follows a group of young girls, the titular Boneless Mercies, who are trained killers, traveling across Vorseland, putting the old and sick out of their misery. But one of the Mercies, Frey, wants more than the death trade has to offer. She wants to kill not for money but for glory: "I would try my hand at greatness, and see where it led. Glory. I wanted to touch it. Taste it." With glory in mind, the Boneless Mercies set out to kill the dreaded Blue Vee beast, a giant terrorizing the land. It's a promising take on the oft-adapted epic poem. Unfortunately, "The Boneless Mercies" becomes overwhelmed by the task of expanding "Beowulf" into a new, distinct fantasy world. The meandering plot is encumbered by details that offer little payoff and a few characters who are clichéd and flat, even when we do dive into their back stories. As a result the novel can at times seem as unrewarding as the fate our heroes hope to escape. These stumbles are a shame because they obscure the empowering tale at the heart of the novel, starting with its deeply feminist update to its source material. Our heroes are women, and their antagonists are women, too. They are, at times, brutal and ruthless and violent in ways that cast in stark relief the reductive portrayal of women in so many of the stories that populate our canon. And Tticholke's characters are all searching, in their own way, for justice and equality. "The hearts of Boneless Mercies beat just as strongly as any Vorse warriors," the book declares. In moments like that, "The Boneless Mercies" feels like a cathartic war cry advocating for the power of girls and women. Hiding in the book are also several thoughtful and refreshing themes about the genre of the epic itself. For instance, toward the end, "The Boneless Mercies" flips the very idea of glory that its heroes seek. "I gave you a purpose, a quest, a chance to be noticed by the gods. I gave you this. Never forget," the fearsome Blue Vee beast proclaims in the book's final act. Frey responds, "I am in your debt, and I won't forget." It's both an engaging moment of camaraderie between two foes and a dynamic critique of the hero's journey: Who is granted honor and glory, and at what cost does it come? ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE COMBINES several tales - "The Wild Swans," "The Ugly Duckling" and "Snow White and RoseRed" - and transforms them into the enchanting BLANCA & ROJA (Feiwel & Friends, 371 pp., $17.99; ages 13 and up). The book follows the plight of the del Cisne sisters, Blanca and Roja, who are doomed to a family curse: Each generation of del Cisnes will have two daughters, but they will eventually be separated when one is turned into a swan. Which daughter will it be? The swans decide. When Blanca learns the secret to saving herself from turning into a swan, she resolves to use that advice to save her sister instead. Seeing Blanca's sudden determination in the swans' game, Roja believes she has been abandoned and resolves to thwart her sister and stay human herself. Intertwined with the tale of the del Cisne sisters are the journeys of Page and Yearling, both outcasts - Page, who feels constrained by gender roles ("Him and her, I kinda like getting called both. It's like all of me gets seen then. Doesn't usually happen, though. Most people can't get their head around boy and she at the same time, I guess"), and Yearling, who faces tremendous physical abuse at the hands of his cousin. The two flee into the forest, each for separate reasons, looking for escape. But rather than offering solace, the forest wraps them into Blanca and Roja's quest. To survive, all four will have to find one another, and find themselves. Though it's full of enchantments, what mostly makes "Blanca & Roja" magical is not the spells that animate the plot but the bond of sisterhood that brings to life Blanca and Roja's struggle. This is more than a story about girls who are threatened with being turned into swans - it is about unwavering loyalty to family, and the hurt that comes when that bond seems betrayed. But what elevates "Blanca & Roja" from a good adaptation to a brilliant one is not just how the book reinvents its source material - it's the ideas that McLemore layers on top of it: her own exploration of sisterhood, identity, the yearning to be seen that we all feel and the question of how we protect the things we love most. "The story of the ugly duckling was never about the cygnet discovering he is lovely," McLemore writes. "It is not a story about realizing you have become beautiful. It is about the sudden understanding that you are something other than what you thought you were, and that what you are is more beautiful than what you once thought you had to be." All these elements combine to make a story so complex and original, you'll forget "Blanca & Roja" is not a classic tale in its own right. MJ FRANKLIN is a social editor at The Times and a former editor at Mashable.