A young girl scratching her story into the floorboards of an unused room in a house that belongs to a dead man. A she-eagle, who, upon hearing the evil thoughts of man, falls out of her nest and falls forever, leaving her eaglets to find their way into the world alone. A young wife, who, after learning the "intricacy of loneliness" associated with marriage, comes down with smallpox and apologizes to her face in the mirror over and over again. These are a few of the memorable characters that populate Toni Morrison's lyrical ninth novel, A Mercy (Knopf). It is 1682 in Maryland. The slave and rum trade runs through Barbados, Native Americans are dying in droves from European diseases, and most women live "of and for men," their three choices: servant, prostitute, wife. But this place and time is also full of miracles and mercies—a surprising and enduring friendship, a mother's intuitive sacrifice, a company man's stumbling but tenacious goodwill. American history, the natural world, and human desire collide in a series of musical voices, distinct from one another—unmistakably Morrisonian in their beauty and power—that together tell this moving and morally complicated tale. "Sudden a sheet of sparrows fall from the sky and settle in the trees. So many the trees seem to sprout birds, not leaves at all. Lina points. We never shape the world she says. The world shapes us. Sudden and silent the sparrows are gone."