A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake

A Tangled Mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Historical
Length: Full length (464 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review by: Cholla

After the sudden death of her troubled mother, struggling Harvard grad student Kate Drayton walks out on her lecture—and her entire New England life. Haunted by unanswered questions and her own uncertain future, she flees to Charleston, South Carolina, the place where her parents met, convinced it holds the key to understanding her fractured family and saving her career in academia. Kate is determined to unearth groundbreaking information on a failed 1822 slave revolt—the subject of her mother’s own research.

Nearly two centuries earlier, Tom Russell, a gifted blacksmith and slave, grappled with a terrible choice: arm the uprising spearheaded by members of the fiercely independent African Methodist Episcopal Church or keep his own neck out of the noose and protect the woman he loves.

Kate’s attempts to discover what drove her mother’s dangerous obsession with Charleston’s tumultuous history are derailed by a horrific massacre in the very same landmark church. In the unimaginable aftermath, Kate discovers a family she never knew existed as the city unites with a powerful message of hope and forgiveness for the world.

A woman on the run from her future runs straight into a past that she hadn’t been expecting. Kate is fleeing the loss of her mother and searching out secrets that were kept from her. However, when she meets a little boy one morning, her world is turned upside down and the secrets kept for so long are about to come unraveled.

Time is a fluid thing and A Tangled Mercy proves this as the story weaves between the past and the present. Written in chapters alternating between present day Charleston, South Carolina and the same city in 1822, a terrible and beautiful story unfolds, bringing the two timelines together. At first, I was so confused, not able to understand how any of it might connect. However, the author is a master at dropping hints and giving clues that you don’t even realize you’ve picked up until it all comes together.

I loved Kate from the very beginning. It’s hard not to like her. She’s smart, she’s sweet, and she’s completely devoted to her family. Losing her mother shakes her world to its foundations and in a way, I think it brings her to herself. Her interactions with Gabe are the sweetest and most fun parts of the story.

Tom Russell’s story is heartbreaking. Unfortunately, this half of the story isn’t anything new or surprising as our history is filled with many such sad tales. However, I hadn’t ever heard about the failed slave revolt that the historical half of this novel focuses around. For me, it was interesting to learn about it in such a first-hand sort of way.

A Tangled Mercy is an informative and enjoyable trip through Charleston, South Carolina. The author paints an amazing picture of both timelines and doesn’t shy away from the less appealing parts of the narrative. The racism and horrors of life are equally represented in both timelines, making it an evocative and haunting story.


  1. Thank you for the kind review! Glad you enjoyed “A Tangled Mercy.”

    If you’re interested in learning more about “A Tangled Mercy” or any of my other books, check out joyjordanlake.com for more information!

    -Joy Jordan-Lake Team

  2. I like stories that go back & forth between past & present.

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