Christina Henry is fast becoming an author that I have on my ‘buy anything as soon as it comes out’ list. The Mermaid is a beautifully written tale that combines a touch of mythology with romance and hint of historical fiction.
P.T. Barnum is looking to add a mermaid to exhibit. It doesn’t have to be real, of course, since there’s no such thing, but he would prefer that it at least looks a little like a mermaid instead of the clearly fake product (the top half of a monkey sewn onto the bottom half of a fish) that one of his workers brought to him. When Barnum’s close associate, Levi Lyman, mentions that he’s heard rumors of a possible mermaid in Maine, Barnum sends Lyman to get the girl and her gimmick so that Barnum can put her on a contract.
Lyman is smitten by the woman, Amelia, when he connects with her. The story he’d heard was that she’d been married to a fisherman who aged and died normally, while she continued to stay young. She tells Lyman that she is indeed a mermaid and that she’s gotten a bit lonely and agrees to come meet Barnum. No one believes she’s an actual mermaid, and she won’t show her transformation until the conditions are right and Mr. Barnum is present. Once she does, however, Barnum knows he’s got a money-maker and he signs her to a contract and watches the money pour in.
Amelia, however, becomes more and more disillusioned with humans as she faces taunts and attacks from onlookers who find her unnatural and terrifying as she swims in a small cage of seawater. While Barnum intends to hold her to her contract, she’s not sure she wants to continue to be on display. Meanwhile, Levi finds he’s falling in love with the woman Amelia, even though she’s truly not human.
Christina Henry’s writing is beautiful. This story is a haunting romance that really pulls the reader into the story.
As much as I like Christina Henry’s work and find her writing to be mesmerizing, I found the characters here just a little uneven. Barnum is the strongest character, which isn’t surprising given that he’s often looked upon as a rather bombastic figure. Here he comes off as a bit of a villain with little concern for anyone or anything other than himself. Henry, in her afterword, mentions that she chose not to be ‘true’ to the historical view of Barnum, but to create him for her own needs.
Lyman comes off as a bit one-dimensional with only Amelia and her interests in mind. He tends to moon over her while remaining a bit of a patsy to Barnum.
And Amelia…. We never really understand why Amelia agrees to show herself off and swim in a tiny glass cage, especially after she finds it disagreeable. Barnum tells her it’s because she’s on a contract, but she, and Levi, and Barnum’s wife all tell him that Amelia could leave at any time. And yet she doesn’t.
Despite these character development flaws, I found myself really enjoying the book – relishing my time between the covers.
Looking for a good book? The Mermaid by Christina Henry is a beautifully written fantasy romance worth reading, even if the characters are just a little flat.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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author: Christina Henry
paperback, 325 pages