Once there was a fisherman who lived on a cold and rocky coast and was never able to convince any woman to come away and live in that forbidding place with him. One evening he pulled up his net and found a woman in it. A woman with black hair and eyes as grey as a stormy sea and a gleaming fish’s tail instead of legs.
The storm in her eyes rolled into his heart. She stopped her thrashing and crashing at his voice, though she did not understand his words. But her eyes had seen inside of him, and his loneliness caught her more surely than the net. So she stayed with him, and loved him, though he grew old, and she did not.
Remarks of this strange and unusual woman travelled from village to village and town to town, until they reached the ears of a man whose business was in the selling of the strange and unusual.
His name was P.T. Barnum, and he’d been looking for a mermaid.
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.