London, 1872. Seventeen-year-old heiress Leonora Somerville is preparing to be presented to society — again. She’s strikingly beautiful and going to be very rich, but Leo has a problem money can’t solve. A curious speech disorder causes her to stutter but also allows her to imitate other people’s voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her “Mad Miss Mimic” behind her back…and watch as Leo unintentionally scares off one potential husband after another.
London in 1872 is also a city gripped by opium fever. Leo’s brother-in-law Dr. Dewhurst and his new business partner Francis Thornfax are frontrunners in the race to patent an injectable formula of the drug. Friendly, forthright, and as a bonus devastatingly handsome, Thornfax seems immune to the gossip about Leo’s “madness.” But their courtship is endangered from the start. The mysterious Black Glove opium gang is setting off explosions across the city. The street urchins Dr. Dewhurst treats are dying of overdose. And then there is Tom Rampling, the working-class boy Leo can’t seem to get off her mind.
As the violence closes in around her Leo must find the links between the Black Glove’s attacks, Tom’s criminal past, the doctor’s dangerous cure, and Thornfax’s political ambitions. But first she must find her voice.
Why should I read this book?
Let’s be honest: while we’re always told not judge a book by its cover, I’m going to put it out there that this may be one of my favourite covers of the year. Just look at it – it’s gorgeous! Props to the amazing designer behind it because it’s totally eye-catching. Luckily, the story inside the covers more than matches the beautiful insides, as Mad Miss Mimic is a lush and mesmerizing tale of deception and intrigue, societal morals and some good old fashioned adventure.
Leonora is a wonderful character, and you very quickly come to feel very sympathetic for her. She’s bound by convention to marry well, and by her sister to be silent due to her “condition”. Leo suffers from a stutter that often resolves itself – without her intention – by transforming into a mimicry of the people around her. Luckily, Leo is not alone, and with her cousin Archie and the compelling Tom Rampling on her side, Leo comes to realize that she deserves more out of life. While she is being formally courted by Francis Thornfax and knows that he will give her security that she could not have imagined, she’s slowly falling for Tom at the same time. This leads to a lovely and nuanced dilemma between head and heart; as readers, we can see how much Leo wants to be independent, but what that meant in the late 19th century was very different from now. I loved how the author showed Leo’s struggle with Mimic, and how the halves of herself were in constant conflict.
There’s a very strong historical bent to the storytelling, and Henstra has obviously gone to great lengths to research appropriate conventions and behaviours. I’d almost say that there is a swashbuckling feel to the adventure, but don’t discount those tiny moments within Leonara’s mind; she’s much more than just a pretty face, and she sees and feels more than she lets on. I really liked the introduction and exploration of the insidious drug culture of London in the 1870’s, right down to the sly naming of the boat (Heroine, anyone?).
The romance unfurls itself quietly, and Aunt Emma deserves a place in the Auntie Hall of Fame for her part in the story. Ultimately, you should read this book because it is a fresh twist on historical fiction, with an unusual protagonist and a really wonderful storyline.
Give me some quotes to convince me.
“Mimic was your great friend and ally today.” HIs voice warmed, dropped lower: “Miss Luck, I shall call you, with her at your command.”
“I don’t c-command her. There is n-no “her”. Just m-me, and a tongue I cannot c-control.”
“Sincerity is a myth, and a dangerous one in my opinion. We are taught to be sincere in order to keep us from saying what we think. And what sort of sincerity is that?” She leaned in to whisper in my ear: “When you are weak, you can seem strong. When you are strong, you can seem weak. In this way you shall outwit those who would dominate you.”
“Aunt Emma always likes to say that the story makes the character. If offstage you learn your character’s story by heart, then onstage you can become her. “Your story,” she says, “determines who you are.”
Mad Miss Mimic is available now from your favourite indie bookseller, large bookstore or online retailer. A copy was provided by Razorbill Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. ISBN: 9780143192367, 272 pages.