Book reviews

Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow (Henry Holt, 2019)

Tedious plot, a funny teenage sex scene, yet the novel illustrates conservative and pro-life ideas.

The plot is implausible, the text could be rewritten in detailed paragraphs instead of one-liners, the novel has little to do with medical killing (euthanasia), and it confirms heterosexual normativity.

It was difficult reading the 369 pages of this fantasy novel for the reasons stated above, but readers can use some ideas from this novel to promote pro-life views about the sanctity of human life and conservative views about heterosexual normativity.

The sematic distortion in the novel is obvious.  Just as euthanasia supporters try to rename the killing of the elderly and the medically vulnerable as “death with dignity” or some other euphemism, the main characters in Owen’s novel are “Crows” who give “mercy” to persons either suffering from illness or dying.  The Crows don’t provide mercy, of course; they kill the people.  Pro-lifers can use this novel as an example of the linguistic distortion used to kill humans in an ancient pagan, albeit fantasy, world.

A major problem of the novel is conceptual.  If Fie, the main Crow character, has the power to create magic to make herself and others invisible to her enemies or to heal wounds obtained in battles, then why could she not use her magic skills to provide palliative care for those who are terminally ill?

Moreover, Fie’s knowledge of herbal sources used as either contraceptives or menstrual aids (171) indicates that even the pagan world in which Fie lives has great knowledge of natural remedies.  Why, then, could her society not have discovered a natural palliative to relieve the pain of those in a terminal condition?

Furthermore, perhaps the reason why Fie is so belligerent and angry throughout the novel is that she is stuck in the caste of being a killer.  Her character comports with the contemporary view that abortionists and euthanasia supporters are incredibly unhappy people.

However, the novel is not concerned so much with euthanasia killings as it is with a tediously narrated journey for Fie and two young men.  Thus, if you’re looking for a thorough fictional account of euthanasia killers, ignore this novel.

On the lighter side, the sex scene between Fie and Tavin is comedy at its best, thunder and all (241-243).  Yes, it is supposed to be titillating and probably is for young adult readers; mature persons, of course, would read these pages and laugh.

Besides being humorous, this sex scene reinforces heterosexual normativity.  Fie and Tavin are not moral exemplars; they are typical teens who think that sex is just an activity to generate pleasure instead of the expression of love between married persons.  It is extremely interesting, therefore, to see how the ever-snotty Fie has softened under the influence of having sex with a male (254).  Similarly, heterosexual normativity transforms Tavin’s idea about his purpose in life from a negative to a more positive one (243).

Whether promoting these heterosexual normative and pro-life ideas was the author’s purposes cannot be determined; the book jacket identifies Owen as someone who raises “money for social justice nonprofits.”

This novel was not worth the time I needed to plow through its 369 pages, but one can learn something from it, such as the above.  Otherwise, reading a master like Henry James (who writes in solid paragraphs) or Virginia Woolf (who is eclectic in her style yet does not lapse into ridiculous or tedious fantasy) would have been more entertaining.

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