The Arrows of Mercy

Written by Jill MacLean
Review by Ray Thompson

1348. After serving as an archer at Crécy, Edmund returns to his village in Berkshire, badly scarred both physically and psychologically. Not that he expects a warm welcome from his neglectful mother and the older half-brother who bullied him relentlessly. Nor, as a villein, bound under the feudal system, from the uncertain temper of his overlord. After his harrowing experiences, can he adjust to life in the village? Will pretty Juliana still care for him, she whose memory comforted him amidst the horrors of war? And, most importantly, will he find peace from the nightmares that haunt him?

This is an unflinching portrait of a harsh and violent age, of petty cruelties and terrible atrocities, of ignorance and superstition, of the misuse of power and the vulnerability of women. And then there is the suffering the Black Death is spreading inexorably. Yet amidst the darkness there is light. Understanding and friendships, old and new, bring solace, and though they may not be gratefully, or graciously, received at the (sometimes ill-judged) time, acts of kindness may bear fruit later. Trust is a slow-growing plant, but the arrows of mercy offer sorely-needed hope.

MacLean has researched carefully, and it shows in the attention to details of ordinary life in a small medieval village. Some aspire to a better life and chafe at the strict social hierarchy, which others defend out of self-interest; but all are viewed with a measure of sympathy in this absorbing narrative, told from Edmund’s point of view. He too has the eye of a poet when he looks out at his surroundings: ‘the white petals of roses curtsey to the breeze.’ And the issues confronted still resonate in our world today—notably epidemics, PTSD, and the mistreatment of women.

An impressive performance. Highly recommended.