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The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

Historical fiction

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Imogen Hermes Gowar, on your first book!

by Imogen Hermes Gowar

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Quick take

A lowly merchant finds himself in possession of a surprisingly hideous mermaid in this romp through 18th-century London.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Romance

    Romance

  • Illustrated icon, 400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Critically_Acclaimed

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Ornate

    Ornate

Synopsis

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlors, and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr. Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on … and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This chance meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, a journey on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost …

What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

One

September 1785

Jonah Hancock’s counting-house is built wedge-shaped and coffered like a ship’s cabin, whitewashed walls and black skirting, beam pegged snugly to beam. The wind sings down Union Street, raindrops burst against the windowpane, and Mr Hancock leans forward on his elbows, cradling his brow in his hands. Rasping his fingers over his scalp, he discovers a crest of coarse hair the barber has missed, and idles over it with mild curiosity but no irritation. In private, Mr Hancock is not much concerned with his appearance; in society, he wears a wig.

He is a portly gentleman of forty-five, dressed in worsted and fustian and linen, honest familiar textures to match his threadbare scalp, the silverish fuzz of his jowls, the scuffed and stained skin of his fingertips. He is not a handsome man, nor ever was one (and as he perches on his stool his great belly and skinny legs give him the look of a rat up a post), but his meaty face is amiable, and his small eyes with their pale lashes are clear and trusting. He is a man well designed for his station in the world: a merchant son of a merchant’s son—a son of Deptford—whose place is not to express surprise or delight at the rare things that pass through his rough hands, but only to assess their worth, scratch down their names and numbers, and send them on to the bright and exuberant city across the river. The ships he sends out into the world—the Eagle, the Calliope, the Lorenzo—cross and re-cross the globe, but Jonah Hancock himself, the stillest of men, falls asleep each night in the room in which he first drew breath.

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Why I love it

If your first thought upon seeing this book was a story starring a redheaded woman with a tail, let me clear the air: This is not one of those mermaid tales. The magical creature that haunts these pages is small, clawed, and, most importantly, dead. And yet, it is this small curiosity that brings together an unlikely cast of characters at the heart of this transporting novel set in 18th-century London: shady brothel keepers, corrupt politicians, and the lonely, humble merchant thrust into this unfamiliar world.

When a mermaid falls unexpectedly into Jonah Hancock’s hands, he decides to parade it about the country in exchange for fame and fortune. From intellectual coffeehouses to high-class brothels, Hancock and his unusual possession travel throughout London, seizing the notice of a host of remarkable characters, including Angelica Neal, a savvy coquette on the lookout for a way out of her unsavory profession.

If you’re looking for a luxurious and ambitious read to sink into for the fall, this book is for you. With the embellished writing of a Jane Austen-era classic, this rags-to-riches story is as well-crafted as it is entertaining. The historical details are expertly rendered, the characters are full of heart, and while the supernatural creature that kicks off this novel might be dead, this is one imaginative story that is full of life.

Member ratings (3,845)

  • Nicole B.

    Denver, CO

    Although I’m not quite sure ExAcTLy what happened at the end, and wasn’t crazy about the ending, I still loved this book. Kept me up reading late, didn’t want to stop reading it! It was mesmerizing!

  • Thora F.

    Dorchester, MA

    I have a hard time explaining what this book is about, but I find myself thinking of it often in the weeks since I finished. It’s worth reading just for the period setting — and the Victorian deserts!

  • Emily C.

    Tarpon Springs, FL

    Beautiful and atmospheric, I didn’t think I was going to love this book until the very end. It’s not a quick read, a book to immerse yourself in the time and place and the lives of women in the 18th c

  • Asia S.

    Portland, OR

    The first 100 pages were a bit slow for me. I wasn’t sure that I would love this book. It turned into something magical and beautiful. Some very unexpected and peculiar things occurred. Very original.

  • Jill S.

    Salt Lake City, UT

    The recurring theme of a woman trapped and how she finds her escape is elegantly rendered in both sweeping and subtle ways. It’s beautiful in its unexpectedness, like the mermaid found in its pages.

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View all
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
The Women
The Lion Women of Tehran
Shelterwood
All We Were Promised
Spitting Gold
The Mayor of Maxwell Street
The Great Divide
The Storm We Made
The Disappearance of Astrid Bricard
Lessons in Chemistry
The Frozen River
What We Kept to Ourselves
The River We Remember
Take My Hand
The Last Russian Doll
The First Ladies
The House Is On Fire
River Sing Me Home
The People We Keep
The Attic Child
Malibu Rising
The Book of Longings
Hester
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
The Nightingale
Daisy Jones & The Six
The Lincoln Highway
The Secret Book of Flora Lea
Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?
The Circus Train
Peach Blossom Spring
Hang the Moon
Booth
The Good Left Undone
Sisters in Arms
The Perishing
The Postmistress of Paris
The Family
Things We Lost to the Water
The Spectacular
Still Life
Send for Me
The Magnolia Palace
The Bookbinder
China Room
This Tender Land
Atomic Love
All the Light We Cannot See
The Vanishing Half
Outlawed
The Four Winds
Independence
The Fountains of Silence
Libertie
Queen of Thieves
The Great Believers
The Clockmaker's Daughter
A Gentleman in Moscow
The Great Alone
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Paris Hours
The Heart's Invisible Furies
Rules of Civility
Circling the Sun
The Moor's Account
Jacqueline in Paris
Don't Cry for Me
The Christie Affair
Bloomsbury Girls
The Wedding Dress Sewing Circle
Bronze Drum