The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock releases tomorrow & I am so excited about it because this is definitely going to be one of my top reads of the year (yes, I know it’s only January). This wonderful book tells a whimsical story about a woman called Angelica & how her whole life is changed because of a strange creature that is found beneath the waves by a man she doesn’t even know. Whilst reading this book you get to really travel deep into the gritty parts of London in the 1700s, & trust me on this, it’s incredible.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
This book contains a miscarriage, racial slurs, racist behaviour, detailed sexual scenes & violence.
I saw a Tweet yesterday by another reviewer that praised this gorgeous book, & ever since I read it I’ve known that there is no way I will be able to promote it as wonderfully as they did. Simon has managed to sum up the book perfectly in less than 40 words, whilst I’m having total reviewers-block [joy] so here is his Tweet:
I’m not sure how you could not be convinced to purchase the book after reading Simon’s Tweet, but if you are still unconvinced I’ll try & convince you with my really messy words. So, it took me a very long time to read this book – not because it was bad or because I loathed picking it up, but because of work commitments & a vile reading slump – & I think the fact that I did actually finish the book, despite life getting in the way, shows how wonderfully captivating & addictive this story was.
The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock tells the tale of several characters, whom’s lives all end up twisted up within one another’s due to Mr Hancock acquiring, what appears to be, a dead mermaid. Very quickly this mermaid becomes the talk of London & everyone is desperate to see it; including sassy, glamorous Angelica, a woman who has recently lost the man who kept her, & is on the look out for someone new. Mr Hancock becomes besotted with Angelica, but she has her eye on someone else, & so she sets Mr Hancock a near impossible challenge – find her a live mermaid in return for some of her time. The book goes on to follow Angelica through a doomed relationship, Mr Hancock’s new fortune & his hunt for a live mermaid, the lives of the girls within the brothel Angelica grew up in, & the people who are connected to these people & places. The story is full of sex, scandal &, as Simon said, many shenanigans, & it’s a pure delight to read.
Every single character in this book had personality; it didn’t matter how important they were to the plot, Imogen made sure to make each character their own person – & everyone felt very real (so much so that at times it felt like this could be based on something that had really happened). Angelica was so much fun, she was sassy & stubborn (& it was great to have a female lead who loves sex!!), but she also grew as a person throughout the book & it was great to see the change in her – although she never really lost all of her selfishness. Mr Hancock was shown to be a simple, but damaged, man, with simple desires in life; very much the opposite of love-interest Angelica. Unfortunately, Mr Hancock becomes obsessed with his desire to find Angelica a live mermaid, & if this story has a moral – it’s to be careful what you wish for.
Mr Hancock’s niece, Sukie, was a great addition to the cast; she was obviously an intelligent young girl & when we met her mother, I was so glad that she was living with her uncle. Mrs Chappell, the woman in charge of the brothel in which Angelica grew up in, was very callous & pretty much everything you would expect of a woman running a brothel. I hated Mrs Chappell even more because the girls that filled the brothel were generally quite ignorant of their situation, but it was very interesting to see which of the girls started to see their situation differently throughout the book, & I adore Polly for taking control of her life.
Imogen also did a great job at bringing London in the 1700s to life; I loved the descriptions of the houses & it was obvious that Imogen has done a lot of research. Although I know that England wasn’t amazing in the 1700s, The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock definitely made me wish I was alive during that time – I definiely think I would have enjoyed one of Mrs Chappell’s parties… I also loved that magic & mythology slowly crept into the story; taking the book from a fabulous historical fiction, to an even better historical fantasy. Seriously, I just loved this book!!
This book isn’t all positive though, there are parts of this story that are very sad & gloomy; for example, details of how women of colour were treated by men in the 1700s – white men talk to Polly, a woman of colour working in Mrs Chappell’s brothel, in vile ways, showing that women like her were treated as a novelty, with men competing to see who could bed the woman of colour first. Imogen also showed how Polly looked down on a black footman who worked at the brothel, & how she refused to group herself in with him as she wasn’t black*; this is a touchy subject for Imogen to address & I have a lot of respect for her for doing so.
* I’m sure Polly’s race is mentioned within the text but I didn’t make a note of it – sorry.
The book also addresses how women were able to ascertain some power & control over their lives by using sex; women like Angelica were described as being “kept”, meaning they were a rich man’s mistress, & in return for their sexual relationship, the man would pay to keep a roof over the woman’s head, food in her belly, & gorgeous gowns & jewellery on her body. Women like Angelica often felt like they were in total control of their lives because they felt they had made the decision to be a man’s mistress & they often had a lot of freedom in deciding how to spend their time, but as Angelica realises, they very rarely had as much control as they believed.
The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock is also very clear about how women like Mrs Chappell took advantage of young, naive girls. The girls who worked within these brothels would be very well looked after – often in the most glamorous settings, surrounded by rich & important men, but these girls would own none of their gowns, none of their jewellery, & none of the possessions they used on a daily basis – instead, all of the money they earned through prostituting themselves would go to Mrs Chappell. Girls like these, which Angelica once was, had nothing to call their own & spent their lives being treated like property – either by the madam of a brothel, or by the men they had sex with.
I’ve said a lot about this book so far & yet I still feel like I haven’t done Imogen’s work justice, so I’m really sorry Imogen! The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock is a book about the good & the bad details of London in the 1780s, with grit, mythology & humour laced throughout it; which certainly leaves the reader wanting more. This was my third read of the 2018 & I know it’s going to be among my favourite reads of the year even in 11 & a half months time. As I said in my introduction this book is released tomorrow & you can order yourself a copy of the book using the links below (it’s really pretty so you should buy it for that reason alone) – if you use the Amazon.co.uk link or the Book Depository link to make a purchase then I’ll receive a small fee at no cost to you, so please consider doing so.
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Book Depository | Waterstones | Wordery