A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan Lake


When I was asked to review Joy Jordan Lakes' 2017 novel A Tangled Mercy, I didn't know what to expect. All I could tell from the cover was that this wasn't going to be a fluffy romance novel I was used to reading in my teens (and, admittedly, now as an 'adult').

A Tangled Mercy follows a theme of many of Lakes' books: life and its hardships. What makes A Tangled Mercy different (at least for me) is its alternative view points. Of course, being a sucker for a romance novel (and general teen fiction), stories with multiple viewpoints aren't 'new' to me.

What was different about the viewpoints explored in this book was that you had Kate Drayton, a young Harvard grad student in 2015, and Tom Russell- a blacksmith and slave in 1822.

I'll admit, having two different people to focus on AND in two different years.....it was strange. I could get behind a few chapters being this way, but a whole book....I wasn't so sure! But, like they say, 'you shouldn't judge a book by its cover'.

Or, in my case, 'you shouldn't judge a book by its multiple viewpoints in different years'.

Let me tell you why I liked this book (and why you will, too):

The characters

The novel, as I explained previously, has two protagonists: Kate and Tom.

First you had Kate Drayton, a young Harvard grad student. Haunted by her uncertain future and unanswered questions, she heads to Charleston, South Carolina. It's the place where her parents met, and the place (Kate hopes) where she'll find answers: about her family and her career in academia. She's determined to find information about a slave revolt in 1822- the focus of her research.

Kate was an incredibly interesting character. She was flawed, fragile and finding herself (as well as answers) as the novel unfolded. I think, in some ways, many people can identify with Kate: as, like Kate, we are finding our way in the world which is both exciting and frustrating at times.

During her search for answers, Kate meets several interesting characters: a young boy named Gabe, his father Daniel and an old woman called Rose with connections to her past. Each character proved to be important, in one way or another, in helping Kate discover herself and the information she needs.

I loved the relationship between Kate and Gabe, which forms almost immediately when Kate arrives in Charleston. Gabe is the comedy relief which I feel the novel needs, whilst also highlighting how attitudes to race still need to change.

Then you have Tom Russell. He's a talented blacksmith and a slave and incredibly important in helping the reader understand the event which Kate is researching as well as addressing the hardships faced by black people in the southern states. He loves Dinah, a slave owned by the Pinckney's, and is presented with a choice: arm an uprising or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves.

It was upsetting. I was captivated by the love story between Dinah and Tom, as well as the efforts of the Pinckney's daughter and her good friend to get them free, and I felt emotional and disappointed in how real this seemed- and probably was. What was annoying about this part was that it wasn't as fleshed out as the 2015 parts of the book, though Kate gets hold of Emily Pinckney's journal. Whilst the novel did explore these characters well, I can't help but feel like they could have been explored better.

The setting

I've never been to Charleston but, through Lakes' elaborate description, I felt as if I was actually there. It was really interesting exploring a setting I knew little about but, through the description, it was easy to visualise what it might've been like.

The connection which Lake made between setting and memory was great, as I'm a pretty nostalgic person: constantly remembering going to places as a child and how they've changed.

It was real

As A Tangled Mercy is historical fiction, Lake takes very true aspects of history and blends them with a captivating story.

When I started reading the novel, it broke my heart thinking that the earlier parts could have been real.

In one part of the novel, a real event happens. Lake includes the 2015 mass shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, an event which left nine people dead.

The fact that the novel felt real, and Lake even included a real event, proves how the novel was very well-researched.

So, if you're looking for a novel about discovery, past and present and hope and forgiveness, A Tangled Mercy is the novel for you! You can buy it NOW at the usual retailers though, if you love bookmarks (like me), you can buy this from Book Depository and even get a FREE bookmark!

What have you been reading?