I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover but the engraved turquoise hardback edition of this book is so stunning, I just had to have it. I love mermaid related things anyway, being something of a water baby myself. I knew instinctively that I would like this novel and I really wasn't wrong.
In gritty Victorian London, a web-toed baby girl, Pearl, is fished out of the Thames and raised in a brothel called House of Mermaids. Meanwhile, two orphaned twins, Elijah and Lily, are enjoying a comfortable childhood in the countryside with their grandfather. As teenagers the twins visit London and encounter Pearl in a chance meeting that will change all their lives forever. Not long after their encounter, naive Pearl learns that she is to be sold by a woman she trusted and loved as a mother.
The story is told from Pearl and Lily’s perspectives, illustrating the differences between the girls’ upbringings and experiences. I liked Lily’s character best; I found her to be innocent, brave and excitable, and I loved her relationship with Elijah. At the other end of the scale there is the vile Tip Thomas, who is a strange mix of psychopath and dandy and makes for a fabulous villain you’ll love to hate. Each chapter is preceded by a quote which I enjoyed; especially as some were from The Water Baby by Charles Kingsley which was a book I enjoyed as a child.
This is a dark Gothic fairytale, laced up with Victorian art and literature and the more the sinister aspects of 19th Century life such as brothels and asylums. If you’re already a fan of Essie Fox (her first novel The Somnambulist is already on my to-be-read list!) or you love Victoriana in general, check out her blog. Elijah’s mermaid is dark and decadent and truly a delight to read.