cover image The Mermaid

The Mermaid

Christina Henry. Berkley, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-399-58404-6

Henry (the Chronicles of Alice duology) introduces a twist into the history of P.T. Barnum’s famous Fiji Mermaid hoax by making the mermaid real. Amelia came from the water because of love; now widowed, she wants to see the world and needs money for travel, which she can get from being an exhibition. Barnum’s friend and employee Levi Lyman wants to protect Amelia from Barnum, who will do a great deal for a buck. The shadow of Joice Heth, the old enslaved woman whom the pair exhibited and exploited until her death, lies heavily on Lyman, who is trying to make up for his previous mistakes. Unfortunately, this promising premise flails under the weight of leaden prose, little suspense in the plot, and an obviously well-researched background that nevertheless feels lifeless and flat. Readers are told, not shown, about the issues Amelia has in confronting human patriarchy and racism, so her eventual partial victory over those forces has little emotional weight. This well-meaning story sinks like a stone. Agent: Lucienne Diver, Knight Agency. (June)