In the 1680s the slave trade was still in its infancy. In the Americas, virulent religious and class division, prejudice and oppression were rife, providing the fertile soil in which slavery and race hatred were carefully planted and took root. Jacob is an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer, with a smallholding in the harsh North. Despite his distaste for dealing in 'flesh', he takes a small slave girl, in part payment for a bad debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. This is Florens, 'with the hands of a slave and the feet of a Portuguese lady', who can read and write and might be useful on his farm. Florens is hungry for love, at first from the older servant woman at her new master's house; but later, when she's sixteen, from the handsome blacksmith, an African, never enslaved, who comes riding into their lives...And all of them have stories: Lina, the native American servant, whose tribe was decimated by smallpox; their mistress Rebekka, herself a victim of religious fervour back in England; young Sorrow, daughter of a sea captain who's spent too many years at sea to be quite...normal; and, finally, there's Florens's own mother back home in Maryland. This is their plight - men and women inventing themselves in the wilderness. A Mercy reveals what lies under the surface of slavery, and the opening chapter of the story of sugar, that great maw which was to eat up millions of lives. But at its heart, like Beloved, this is the ambivalent, disturbing story of a mother and a daughter in a violent ad-hoc world - a world where acts of mercy, like everything else, have unforeseen consequences.
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