Title: The Mermaid’s Child
Author: Jo Baker
Publisher: 17th March 2015 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 350 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: fantasy, historical fiction, adult
My Rating: two crowns
In this fantastical novel, the acclaimed author of Longbourn brings us the magical story of a young girl in search of her mother...who just might be a mermaid. Malin has always been different, and when her father dies, leaving her alone, her choice is clear: stay, and remain an outsider forever, or leave in search of the mythical inheritance she is certain awaits her. Apprenticed to a series of strange and wonderful characters, Malin embarks on a gruelling journey that crosses oceans and continents—from the high seas to desert plains—and leads to a discovery that she could never have expected. Beautifully written and hauntingly strange, The Mermaid’s Child is a remarkable piece of storytelling, and an utterly unique work of fantasy from literary star Jo Baker.
From the blurb, my italics:
“Apprenticed to a series of strange and wonderful characters (Strange? Most certainly. Wonderful? Sadistic maybe), Malin embarks on a gruelling journey (repeatedly defying death) that crosses oceans and continents—from the high seas to desert plains (both of which she was left for dead, yet survived)—and leads to a discovery that she could never have expected. (she’s right back where she started!)”
Sorry to be so trite. But to say I struggled with this book would be an understatement. I excitedly took the opportunity to read Jo Baker’s novel after receiving so much enjoyment from her ‘Longbourn” tale. Firstly, as you can read above, I have issues with the blurb – um, it’s misleading. The description leads you to believe that it will be a fantasy tale, inclusively of mermaids somewhere throughout. This could not be further from the truth. Let me state right now, there is no fantasy and not a hint of magical realism. The reality of the situation is that this is a very dark, cruel story, a gruesome historical drama. So if you like that kind of genre, with a lot of emphasis on ‘doom and gloom’ then this may be the book for you. It was not the book for me, sorry to say.
If you are able to overcome the repeated horrible and torturous situations the lead character finds herself in, (for it most certain is cyclical - I think I counted eight settings where Malin would find herself abused in some form or other) you would still be hard pressed to try and accept the long list of near-death scenarios, that it becomes ridiculous – unbelievable. Maybe there is fantasy after all. For Malin does pass as a pregnant boy after all! For me, however, the constant repetition of violent encounters just starts to numb the reader, to the point that you become blasé. Here we go again. It just became too much for me and most definitely was not my cup of tea at all.
“Rest: just a moment’s rest. I sank down to my knees, fumbled in my bad and drew out the canteen. I tugged at the stopper, brought the bottleneck to my lips. The water slid across my tongue and was gone”.
Why give it two stars? Jo Baker can write! Her prose is very good, powerful and picturesque. She really immerses her reader in time and place. So whilst I loved ‘Longbourn’, I would steer clear of ‘The Mermaid’s Child’ unless you are comfortable with a dark and cruel read.
“What was the point of struggling, of dragging yourself on for another day, another mile, when all that you were stumbling on towards all the time was death”.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.