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Sunday, September 2, 2018

Book Review: The Mermaid by Christina Henry

The Mermaid
by Christina Henry
June 19, 2018
336 pages
Publisher: Berkley

From the author of Lost Boy comes a beautiful historical fairy tale about a mermaid who leaves the sea, only to become the star attraction of history's greatest showman.

Once there was a mermaid called Amelia who could never be content in the sea, a mermaid who longed to know all the world and all its wonders, and so she came to live on land. 

Once there was a man called P. T. Barnum, a man who longed to make his fortune by selling the wondrous and miraculous, and there is nothing more miraculous than a real mermaid.

Amelia agrees to play the mermaid for Barnum and walk among men in their world, believing she can leave anytime she likes. But Barnum has never given up a money-making scheme in his life, and he's determined to hold on to his mermaid.

The Mermaid is Christina’s Henry’s most recent retelling of beloved fairy/folk tales and heroes. Henry has taken on Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and now P.T. Barnum. The Mermaid tells the tale of a mermaid’s life on land as well as her subsequent exploitation at the hands of an enterprising and unscrupulous P.T. Barnum.

Amelia is a curious mermaid looking for more. She settles into a blissful, quiet domesticity as the wife of a costal fisherman. But when Amelia finds herself widowed but unaged, she longs to widen her world. She is offered a feature spot in P.T. Barnum’s museum of amusements and she reluctantly takes the position as a means to an end. Predictably, Amelia soon becomes acquainted with the cold, cruel world of humans.

I enjoyed The Mermaid for its subtle, nuanced storytelling. Henry is a true literary figure al
ong fantasy writers. The book, however, lacked the magic and gripping storyline of her previous two retellings. Despite her integration into the human world, Amelia retains her secretive, closed-off character. While this is suitable in establishing the story, it makes it difficult for the reader to form an attachment. Feeling ‘other’ or ‘misfit,’ however, is a definite touchstone for readers.

Though this story takes place in the mid-1800s, it’s remarkable how applicable it is to a contemporary reader. The ideas of prejudice, exploitation, celebrity as commodity, and feminism are all integral pieces to the story. Amelia is the perfect vehicle to embody ideals far ahead of her time. She isn’t the popularized picture of a mermaid; buxom with a sea shell bikini, but rather something otherworldly, curious, and deadly. Amelia is afforded a feminist sensibility in this time and place because she alien and other: “All she’d found was that women spent a great deal of time saying they were pleased when they were not, smiling when they were not happy, and pretending their anger and frustration did not exist.”

Readers expecting a reprisal of P.T. Barnum as imagined by The Greatest Showman will be sorely disappointed. Henry’s Barnum is a self-interested, conniving business man who cares little for anyone or anything other than himself. Henry assumes a much more critical voice regarding the history of this man and his questionable and exploitive practices.

Review: Alice (The Chronicles of Alice #1)
Review: Red Queen (The Chronicles of Alice #2)

Review: Lost Boy: The True Story of Captain Hook

Four Sheep

Bianca Greenwood

About the Author:
CHRISTINA HENRY is the author of the national bestselling BLACK WINGS (Ace/Roc) series featuring Agent of Death Madeline Black and her popcorn-loving gargoyle Beezle. She is also the author of the forthcoming dark fantasy ALICE (Ace Trade).

She lives in Chicago with her husband and son.

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