FICTION

The Merciful Crow

Holt. (Merciful Crow: Bk. 1). Jul. 2019. 384p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781250191922.
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Gr 9 Up–In a fantasy kingdom with strict castes, the bottom-rung Crows are relentlessly persecuted. The only people immune to the plague capable of wiping entire towns off the map, Fie’s small band of Crows are tasked with visiting stricken households, disposing of the dead victims, and showing mercy to those near their end. When the Crown Prince and his bodyguard fake their own deaths by plague, Fie extracts a promise of greater equality for their caste from the prince in exchange for restoring him to power. Although she’s been preparing to lead her own band one day, she has to assume leadership after a sudden betrayal leaves her alone with the prince, his bodyguard, and the promise they’ve made to one another. Debut author Owen’s rich world-building is tight and logical, integrating various magical gifts, memorable characters, and timely and relevant themes of prejudice, persecution, and social justice. One especially nice touch is the baseline assumption that queer characters are so normal in this world as to be a nonissue—one background character, for example, uses they/them pronouns with no fanfare or explanation. Many readers wouldn’t notice this detail, but queer readers and their allies likely will appreciate it.
VERDICT An excellent next read for fans of Leigh Bardugo, Kristin Cashore, and Moira Young

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