This was one of my five most anticipated new releases in 2018, and Christina Henry has quickly become an instant click author, in her first three fairy tale retellings. So far, we’ve had Alice and Red Queen, and Lost Boy (which was absolutely freaking awesome!). When I heard her next book was called ‘The Mermaid‘ I assumed it would be a little mermaid retelling, but I wasn’t disappointed to find out it was a historical fiction/fantasy Book about the Fejee Mermaid hoax.
The Mermaid in this book is Amelia and she is not like the half-human, half-fish effigy people assume, but a creature of the sea. She is wild and gets trapped in a net and finds herself drawn to the fisherman. He releases her, nd she returns. They get married, years pass ect. Her village in rural Maine keep nosy people away but inevitably, ten years after her fisherman husband has passed, word gets loose about ‘the Mermaid’ and P.T.Barnum sends a guy knocking. Amelia says no, then changes her mind, signs a contract and helps Charity Barnum stand up to her husband.
The key theme that I really enjoyed in this book was female agency. While she is a fisherman’s wife, Amelia and her husband know that she is wild, and he never tried to keep her or tame her or anything like that. And when Levi arrives to invite Amelia to work for Barnum, she says no. Then, when she changed her mind, she argued for a strict contract, and stands up to Barnum constantly. She is contrasted by Charity Barnum, the long suffering society wife. Charity abides by the rules, ignores her husband’s barbs, tries not to be embarrassed. Seeing New York through Amelia’s eyes is a complaint about the restrictions of women, how unfair shoes are, talking to men like equals ect, and she is baffled as to why people look at her strangely. It’s an I’m going critique of women’s place in this society, and highlights Amelia’s Otherness in an interesting way.
However much I enjoyed the women’s agency, I felt that the Mermaid was lacking that spark of Magic that infused Henry’s other books. Perhaps it was because this was historical fiction, rather than a darkly whimsical story, it felt more grounded in reality. This is a story of Magic colliding with the circus of PT Barnum. It was good, I loved how Amelia and Charity interact, but there wasn’t much surprise, no pzazz. It felt very much like a historical fiction novel with a splash of magic, rather than being thrown into the deep end of magical realism. I feel like I went into this with Expectations (capital warranted) and it didn’t fall flat, per say, but even knowing this was more historical fiction, I think I was still expecting the deep rooted magicalism of Henry’s other books. Therefore, I think a fair thing to say about The Mermaid is that I liked it for it’s own sake.
I gave this 🐝🐝🐝 on Goodreads, but on balance I think it’s closer to 3.5 – I liked it, enjoyed it even, but it was a little predictable so falls shy of the 4 star mark.