Book Review: The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen


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?



It took a little bit for me to get into this one but at the end of the day I’m glad I stuck with it because it’s a wonderful story with vivid world building and lots of action and romance. It’s also a story that has a lot to say.

This is a book that drops you right into the world building and doesn’t look back. One of the reasons it took me a while to get into the story is because I kept having to reread bits in the beginning because I didn’t yet understand the world I’d entered. The story doesn’t hold your hand with info dumps or exposition–it’s definitely a case of ‘show don’t tell’ here. But, once I got into the swing of things I started to enjoy the story much more. The society in this world is a caste based system where each cast is named after a type of bird and has very specific functions. In a lot of ways I hate this type of world building–it reminds me so much of all those dystopian novels where everyone is pigeon holed into a certain type of person based on their color or district or what have you. But. Even though the castes here dictate what the characters do, it doesn’t dictate who they are. I think that’s a very important distinction. The other thing I thought was really intriguing about this world is the magic. Each caste has their ‘witches’ where they can use a special type of magic that is specific to their caste. Except the Crows–they can use the magic from any caste as they use the teeth of the dead to utilize those abilities.

One thing that really helped me get into the story is that the characters are all so intriguing and they each have so much at stake. Fie is a young Crow, training to be a chief one day. She feels the duty to her people, it’s a lot but it’s something she is passionate about. She wants more for her people and she’s willing to take a risk to ensure a better future for them. The prince, Jasimir, at times seems quite sullen. He’s the embodiment of entitlement. Even so, he hasn’t always had it easy growing up. Still, it takes him a long time to really open his eyes and his mind to see the problems his world is facing. Tavin, his double, is a little more open to recognizing the problems of the world yet he they’re not a priority for him. He cares about one thing and that’s protecting the prince and getting him to safety so that he can fight back against his stepmother who wants him dead and out of the way. Everyone here has their own priorities and although they make an alliance, those priorities sometimes don’t align which makes for some great conflict throughout the story.

While reading this I couldn’t help but make comparisons to our own world. The Crows are needed by society, the play a vital function in keeping this world from collapsing. And yet they are treated as less than animals. They’re constantly cheated out of the little scraps of payment they rightfully deserve as well as hunted down and killed for no reason whatsoever. It seems like everyone looks for an excuse to be crappy to a Crow. There were parts where I drew parallels between the situation in the book and real life struggles between the African American community and the police. The Hawks are sort of like the police of this world–they’re meant to enforce things and protect people, including the Crows. And yet Hawks are shown over and over again to take advantage of the Crows as well, using their power as an excuse to extort them. The prince and his Hawk double are incredulous when Fie tries to explain this to them and even after experiencing it the prince says something to the effect of ‘but it can’t be all Hawks, some of them must be good’. I don’t know if I had read this before 2020 and everything that happened if I still would have felt these parallels so strongly, but I really really felt them reading it now.

There’s a lot of great action in this story. It’s essentially a story where characters go on a journey from point A to point B, and they’re being chased the entire way. This put me in mind of Courtney Schafer’s The Whitefire Crossing which is one of my favorite fantasy novels. I quite liked how the chase kept the tension going while also giving our characters little moments to get to know each other and reflect. The pacing was very good here.

Overall, I wound up enjoying this book a lot more than I thought I would. It took me a little while to get into the story but in the end it completely won me over. Very much looking forward to reading the sequel. 4.5/5 stars.

21 thoughts on “Book Review: The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen

  1. Susy's Cozy World says:

    This sounds a pretty amazing book. And obviously now I want to read it! What you wrote about the worldbuilding makes for an interesting reading, even if it can be demanding, and the fact that the characters goals are not always the same sounds intriguing!

    • waytoofantasy says:

      I really liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. I’m going to be getting the second book soon so that I can finish up the series. If you check it out, I hope you enjoy!

  2. Tammy says:

    I’ve always heard good things about this book. I think it’s interesting that you found those parallels to our real world, I wonder if they were deliberate?

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery says:

    The premise for this book is a sound one, and I would read it on the basis of that alone, but there is the added bonus of a story that makes one *think*, and that’s a very precious commodity in fiction, indeed. One for the “wanted” list, certainly – and thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. dinipandareads says:

    Fabulous review! I’ve heard some really positive things about this YA fantasy although I kinda feel it’s not as popular a title as others but maybe I’m just missing out on all the hype 😂 I wasn’t 100% sure whether I wanted to pick this up but after reading your review, I think I will! This sounds really good 😃

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