Author: Sarah Henstra
Synopsis: 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.
Huge thank you to Penguin Canada and Netgalley for this ARC!
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to like Mad Miss Mimic when I started it. The writing style was odd, if a bit tough to get into, and the content itself was a tad slow at first. Thankfully, this is one of those novels that is a slowburn, but when it hits it’s stride, it moves, and moves quickly.
Sarah Henstra introduces readers to Leonora Somerville, a very unreliable and difficult narrator to really grasp. Dubbed “Mad Miss Mimic”, Leo often ends up dipping in and out of mimicry depending on the situation she is forced into. Our heroine has a stuttering disorder, but often in times of self-confidence, she is able to mimic those around her. It’s quite fascinating really, because it’s not as though the use of mimicry is a defensive mechanism (though I suppose it could be viewed that way). I saw it more as a means of manipulation, which made Leo all the more interesting as a protagonist.
What I really loved about this novel was the historical elements, and when you read Henstra’s Author’s Note at the end of the novel, it’s apparent what liberties she has taken and which elements are historical fact. She weaves all these facts and liberties into a really fantastic mystery, and although the book was predictable at times, it oddly never deterred from my enjoyment — I was always happy to uncover more about Leonora and her desires to marry Francis Thornfax.
Truthfully, all the characters in this book are horribly dishonest, but it’s actually what keeps them interesting. Francis Thornfax is not who he seems on the surface, and as the reader continues on, his shadey dealings become so much more apparent. The servants are just deplorable at times, and Leonora herself can be so aggravating and frustrating, but on the other hand, so cunning and intelligent. I never found myself hating these characters, but always needing to know more about them, understanding their motives, and I feel like I got that for the most part.
Mad Miss Mimic is one of those books where the writing style is going to play into your level of enjoyment. It’s not easy to get into by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one I encourage readers to try and stick with if you can. The story itself is intriguing, highly entertaining, if a touch predictable at times. Still, Henstra keeps the reader guessing, and that’s always a sign of a great mystery novel, isn’t it?