“For mermaids are the most unnatural of creatures and their hearts are empty of love.”
So all you have to know going into this book is that it’s set in the late 1700’s, and it revolves around Mr. Hancock, a lonely, widowed merchant who suddenly comes in possession of a mermaid, and that Angelica Neal is a prostitute (ahem, courtesan!) who comes to his attention. This book revolves around their lives and interactions.
***Genre: Historical fiction, magical realism
***Thank you to Edelweiss for sending an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions stated here are solely my own and have not been influenced in any way.
My thoughts: Wowee!
It is rare that a book with a lovely cover and an intriguing premise lives up to its packaging, yet not only was this book written so incredibly well, it also challenged me to think about what it was trying to say: for if I were to describe the moral of this story, there are almost too many intricacies for me to begin unraveling.
For one, the mermaid’s presence in this narrative was highly fascinating to me. There are striking themes and dichotomies being set up between characters so that things are being said about freedom, self-fulfillment, and identity, and I walked away very contemplative in that regard: the author strikes key chords in relevant issues like marriage and self-autonomy, and I thought such themes were nicely tackled.
Furthermore, I enjoyed how easy this book was to follow. It reads like a classic in the fashion of Jane Eyre and Dorian Gray, and the prose was lyrical, intricate, and poetic, and it’s probably one of the most well-written books I’ve read in a while: it flowed easily enough for me to speed up whenever I needed some respite from the world-building, yet it offered just the right amount of craft for me admire at a more leisurely pace.
And the best thing is, the story felt familiar yet wholly unique! It addressed cerebral themes that are prevalent in historical fiction (i.e. women’s issues and struggles to conform to standards), but with the enigma of the mermaid’s significance hanging over these characters, there was a sense of omniscience and atmosphere permeating this narrative that prompted me to inhale-read this book in one sitting.
Bottom line, this book achieved the perfect balance between flowery writing and a clean-flowing story, and it engaged me from start to finish. There are a few unresolved threads that left me for want, but in the large scheme of the narrative, this book was crisp and entertaining, and it was an absolute pleasure to read.
“We all must die one day. I ought not to leave the world just as I found it.”
Recommended? For whom?
Too often with beautifully crafted prose, books can become tedious, pretentious, and a bit of a pain to read, but this book flowed nicely despite its intricate writing. And although there are a few elusive morals that will leave you pensive at the end, the themes of the story will make themselves known to you along the way.
Therefore, if you love classics and historical fiction, I’d highly recommend this book! Certain parts of this story are very mature at times (sex and prostitution are huge players here, and there was be a case of rape) so I’d advise for ages 17 and up.
Bottom line: Lovely and satisfying!
This book is about finding a compromise between ambition and security. These characters are constantly yearning and gambling for things beyond their reach, and I liked the message about cherishing what you’ve already attained in your life.
So I’d give this book a near-five star rating! Again, there are a few storylines left unresolved and rushed developments that left me a tad skeptical, but this book was otherwise right up my alley: it was beautifully crafted yet mystifying and engaging to explore, and it’s probably one of my favorite standalones in recent years.
My rating: 4.5 to 5/5 stars
***By the way, apologies for my absence in the last few weeks. Not only have I been incredibly busy with family matters, I just didn’t feel like blogging for a while. No reason in particular, but the language portion of my brain did go into puberty mode for a while, so I got stuck writing book reviews. 😛 Likely will be back regularly next week, so until then.