Review: The Mermaid and Mrs. Handcock

By: Imogen Hermes Gowar

Available on: Amazon, Audible, and Barnes and Noble.


Blurb: An elegant tale told in three acts: a twist of fortune changes the lives of many as one Mr. Jonah Hancock comes into possession of the corpse of an honest-to-god baby mermaid. The novelty attracts the attention of the Madame of a so-called nunnery, where ladies are handsomely compensated for their company and far more physical acts. One of Mrs. Chappell’s former star girls is recently returned to the social scene after the untimely demise of her previous patron. Her name is well known amongst the Ton: Mrs. Angelica Neal. She is fickle and flighty; she struggles to readjust to the return to her life before. All is not lost for Angelica as she is reunited with her old friend, and fellow pupil of Mrs. Chappell, Bel Fortescue. But lust, love, loss, and folly drive Angelica from the path of professional mistress and towards the haunted Mr. Hancock. She demands another mermaid from him in return for her affections. But the realities of obtaining said creature are far from what either expected. With her lifestyle in upheaval and friends betraying her, Angelica falls from hedonistic opulence into spirited but ordinary.

Trigger Warnings:

Bullying, Child Abuse, Death (mentioned), Drug Use (Illicit), Emotional Abuse, Food, Infidelity, Mental Abuse, Miscarriage, Non-Consensual Touching, Off Screen Infidelity, Off Screen Sex, Poor Coping Mechanisms, Prostitution, Racism, Sexism, Slavery, Systemic Racism, Time Period True Racism, Toxic Masculinity, Unsafe Lifestyle, Unsafe Sex

Body Count: 0

The Specs:

  • Genre
    • Technical Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Humor, Magical Realism
    • Theo Genre: Magical Realism, Feminist Fiction
  • Page count: 496 pages
  • POV: limited 3rd.
  • Publication information:
    • Publisher: Harper Perennial
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0062859969
    • ISBN-13: 978-0062859969

Other Fun Stuff:

To Read or Not To Read (Again):

Bedside Bookshelf Returned to the Library Furniture Support

Rating out of five: 3.0 out of 5

Representation and Sexism Tests:

  • Bechdel–Wallace Test:
    • Do two female characters talk about something other than a male character? YES NO
  • DuVernay Test: PASS
    • Are there fully actualized characters of color? YES NO
  • Ellen Willis Test: PASS
    • Would two related characters still work to carry the story if their genders were reversed? YES NO
  • Mako Mori Test: PASS
    • Is there a female character? YES NO
    • Does she get her own arc? YES NO
    • Does it do anything other than support a man’s story? YES NO
  • Sexy Lamp Test: PASS
    • Would the plot fall apart if the female character was replaced by a sexy looking lamp? Absolutely! Maybe? No.
  • Vito Russo Test: FAIL
    • Is there a character on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum? YES NO
    • Are they a character beyond their orientation? YES NO
    • Do they affect the plot? YES NO

Overall review:


The premise is fascinating: an actual mermaid in Georgian-era London. The writing style of Ms. Gowar is witty and emotional. The magical realism she seamlessly folds in is reminiscent of Sarah Addison Allen or Alice Hoffman in the best of ways. I found The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock much like a souffle. A bit slow and careful to rise, but well worth the effort it takes to get through.

The inter-cutting of the mermaid’s thoughts throughout the novel was an interesting take, and one I admit I did not initially understand. In her magical world, there is an interesting twist of mermaid lore more reminiscent of selkies.

Smutty moments/smut review:

For a book that is predominantly about the interwoven stories of a handful of whores, their customers, and one widowed merchant, there is surprisingly little smut.

Favorite passage:

Unwatched, she will seek out the scrap of mackerel skin that fell from her when first she was dragged from the water. Given the means to return to the sea, she will unhesitatingly cast off the bonds of motherhood, forget her uxorial vows. She will vanish for ever in the turn of a wave as if it had all meant naught to her. For mermaids are the most unnatural of creatures, and their hearts are empty of love.”


Was it engaging?

Yes No At times      Room for improvement Had to fight through it.

Favorite Character:

I believe that my favorite character was Angelica herself. She is feckless and longs for a true affection with someone, beyond that which she builds her business transactions.

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