3 reasons Christina Henry’s The Mermaid is dark, magical, and completely worth your time


Christina Henry’s newest novel, The Mermaid, has finally hit shelves, and it’s just as dark and magical as we hoped it would be.

Christina Henry meshes historical fiction and fantasy in her latest release, The MermaidSet in the 19th century, the story follows the mermaid Amelia as she journeys to the human world and falls in love with a fisherman. But when her husband doesn’t return from sea one day, her life changes forever.

She spends years in their cottage by the ocean, alone and not aging. Though she longs to see the world, she fears leaving the home she’s known and letting go of her love. Leaving would put an end to her secret hope that he’ll return one day.

When an associate of the notorious P.T. Barnum shows up and asks her to become a spectacle in his museum, she hastily declines the offer. But upon further inspection, she realizes that this could be her key to seeing the world. All she needs to do is make enough money from the exhibit, then leave.

But Amelia soon realizes that human greed knows no bounds, and it will be much harder to leave the Barnum’s museum than she initially believed. And after what she sees of human beings, she may not even want to travel the world once her contract ends.

The Mermaid is a novel with the magic of a fairy tale and the atmosphere of a historical fiction read, but its interior delves into the darker side of humanity. It’s full of important themes, but here are three that really make it worth reading.

1. It forces readers to question their beliefs.

More than anything else, The Mermaid forces both the characters and the readers out of their comfort zones. Amelia’s existence alone is something that Barnum and Levi must come to terms with, but the novel begs readers to find the extraordinary in their own lives too.

The novel also raises some difficult questions, ones that contradict many of the preconceived notions human beings hold onto. For example, it begs us to examine how we treat those we consider “other.”

Of course, the primary example of this is Amelia. As a mermaid, she is both revered and feared by the general public. And no matter which side they fall on, most people view her as more animal than human. To make matters worse, they believe this gives them the right to treat her as inferior.

This injustice is mirrored in both the treatment of the other animals in Barnum’s shows and in the theme of colonialism. While both of these are smaller and less discussed themes, they hit home an important point: Human beings, especially in the West, believe that anything that differs from what they’re used to is savage and in need of subjugation.

2. It challenges the sexism, back then and now.

One of the major themes throughout The Mermaid is sexism, which makes sense given the time period. But through her critiques of gender roles in the 1800s, Henry manages to challenge modern day sexism as well. After all, there are only so many jokes one can make about petticoats and bonnets.

The greatest example of this is probably Henry’s examination of marriage. During the 19th century, men generally believed that their wives were their property. Barnum certainly treats his wife as such, and Levi attempts to do the same with Amelia.

Fortunately, Amelia doesn’t understand this convention and refuses to partake. She claims to be her own before she is anyone else’s, and she insists that she can still love her husband while feeling this way. It’s a healthy mindset to share with readers and one that sadly still needs to be stressed.

The book also tackles the notion that female children are a disappointment, while male children are something to be coveted after. And it questions why nudity is considered so taboo, particularly when it comes to women. Smaller issues like these are scattered throughout the narrative, and their absurdity is emphasized by Amelia’s lack of knowledge when it comes to human customs.

It’s amazing how strange conventions can appear from the perspective of an outsider.

3. It reveals the ugliness of greed.

Through Barnum’s character, The Mermaid makes a searing statement about the evils of human greed. Though Barnum does have the occasional vulnerable moment, it’s usually overridden by his desire for money and fame. He’s willing to forego his morals, and even his closest relationships, just to make an extra buck.

This behavior doesn’t get him very far, and it certainly doesn’t bring him genuine happiness. He’s always fretting about costs, and he worries often about how he’ll earn his next dollar. Meanwhile, the people around him increasingly lose respect for him. It’s certainly not an admirable way to live.

Barnum isn’t the only character who falls prey to this mindset. The story is littered with characters with corrupt and cruel motives, and even Amelia allows money to guide her decisions. She later acknowledges that this is shallow, but that’s after she compromises her own happiness and health for a salary.

Next: 4 big takeaways from Sabaa Tahir's A Reaper at the Gates

The Mermaid hit bookstores on Tuesday, June 19. It’s the perfect novel to throw in your beach bag.