Since she was found as a baby, floating in the Thames one foggy night, the web-toed Pearl has been brought up in a brothel known as theHouse of Mermaids. Cosseted and pampered there, it is only when her fourteenth birthday approaches that Pearl realises she is to be sold to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, the orphaned twins, Lily and Elijah, have shared an idyllic childhood, raised in a secluded country house with their grandfather, Augustus Lamb. But when Lily and Elijah go on a visit London, a chance meeting with the ethereal Pearl will have repercussions for all of them, binding their fates together in a dark and dangerous way…
In this bewitching, sensual novel, Essie Fox has written another tale of obsessive love and betrayal, moving from the respectable worlds of Victorian art and literature, and into the shadowy demi-monde of brothels, asylums and freak show tents – a world in which nothing and no-one is quite what they seem to be.
I liked The Somnambulist, Fox’s first novel, but I absolutely loved Elijah’s Mermaid! This novel catapults the reader into the seedier side of Victorian London, and amongst the brothels, freak shows and asylums, we learn about the lives of Pearl, a web-toed girl found abandoned in the Thames, and the twins Lily and Elijah, rescued from the foundling hospital by their grandfather Augustus.
This is a novel about obsessive love in all its guises, from mild infatuation to all-out harmful addiction. Water is also a constant theme – from the House of the Mermaids to the river Thames, and from Elijah and Lily’s obsession with catching a water baby to other things that happen later in the book (and would spoil the story if I told you now).
The story is told through a variety of ways; mainly alternating chapters from the first-person points of view of Pearl and Lily, but also newspaper articles, letters, and entries from Elijah’s diary. In this way, plenty of dark secrets are revealed, with dramatic twists and turns in the plot – and the revelation that hardly anyone is exactly what they seem.
I loved the variety of characters in this novel, which also includes one of the skin-crawlingly nastiest villains I’ve come across in a long while! The descriptions are vivid and the prose is packed with historical detail, to the point where the reader can practically smell the filth on the streets…
All in all, this is a fantastic novel, and if you like dark, Victorian fiction you could do much worse than to read this. I thoroughly recommend this, and I’m very much looking forward to Fox’s third novel.
(Free review copy received.)