Mad Miss Mimic
By: Sarah Henstra
Publisher: Razorbill Canada
Publication Date: January 3rd, 2017
Jane Austen meets Arthur Conan Doyle in a historical fiction debut for fans of Ruta Sepetys and Elizabeth Wein.
Born into an affluent family, Leo outwardly seems like a typical daughter of English privilege in the 1870s: she lives with her wealthy married sister Christabel, and lacks for neither dresses nor trinkets. But Leo has a crippling speech impediment that makes it difficult for her to speak but curiously allows her to mimic other people’s voices flawlessly. Servants and ladies alike call her “Mad Miss Mimic” behind her back… and watch as she unintentionally scares off every potential suitor. Only the impossibly handsome Mr. Thornfax seems interested in Leo…but why? And does he have a connection to the mysterious Black Glove group that has London in its terrifying grasp? Trapped in a city under siege by terror attacks and gripped by opium fever, where doctors (including her brother-in-law) race to patent an injectable formula, Leo must search for truth in increasingly dangerous situations – but to do so, she must first find her voice.
Mad Miss Mimic was a great pick me up after exam week. It had mystery and romance and was a satisfying standalone. A quick read that was as captivating as its gorgeous cover. I finished the book in one sitting, the Jane Austen-y feel roping me in and the originality keeping me hooked.
Our titular Miss Mimic, Leonora, also known as Leo to her friends or stumbletongue to her sister, not only has a stutter but also the uncanny ability to parrot the voices of others, especially when under pressure or stress. The results of which range from horrendous to humorous. This ability has set her apart her entire life and caused her no little amount of grief and the loss of several potential suitors. However, that seems about to change as the dashing, refined, and very wealthy Mr. Thornfax is willing to look beyond her impediment and the sudden outbursts of Miss Mimic to offer Leo the advantageous marriage that had seemed out of her grasp since her society debut. While the budding romance unfolds, bombings across London have the public worried and terrorized by The Black Glove as parliament plans a decisive vote on the continuation of the opium trade. When one of these incidents takes place too close for comfort, Leo’s suspicions grow and she begins to wonder if those around her are more connected to The Black Glove than she realizes.
As the story progresses, suspicious subjects turn ally and the charming suitor becomes a cad. Along with Leo’s growth, from a wall flower that appreciates not being looked on with fear or amused curiosity for once in her life to a young woman that uses her cleverness and curiosity to confront The Black Glove, the characters of Tom and Thornfax are equally rich. The reader’s and Leo’s trust in Tom is questioned as we learn more about his character and he earns our trust through his devotion to Will, Daisy, and his grandmother and his determination to set right his perceived mistakes. Thornfax has his layers stripped away in similar fashion but with devastating results. He is a well formed villain whose preternatural calm in the face of his own violence is chilling. His ability to switch back and forth between the classy gentleman we first meet and the utter bastard he ends up being under his well manufactured public mask is written believably and without being overdone or feeling forced.
Outside of the two love interests, the rest of Leo’s family is well developed. Her aunt is wonderful, a powerhouse and a lady at the same time, an anchor for Leo in a sea of societal judgement. In addition, her cousin Archibald was a delight and I appreciated his interspersed news articles. Her sister Christa’s subtle annoyance and long simmering resentment was done well and becomes steadily more palpable as the novel progresses. From uncomfortable jabs building to vindictive machinations as her mental faculties decline, her side plot is well developed as is her relationship with Leo.
My only issue with the story, and the reason for the four stars instead of five, is the romance. It felt like it came out of nowhere, with Tom being frustrated or upset around Leo to the point where she and the reader believe Leo is the cause, without leaving room for the reader to see through Tom’s facade in a way Leo can’t. There was also little room for Leo and Tom’s relationship to develop, and it was labelled rather quickly as love after only several conversations and one rescue on Tom’s part.
Overall, Sarah weaves a story with excellent writing and plotting, with the moments when Leo discusses her difficulties with speech quite poetic. It is a mystery that unravels rather early, but it is carried out well and the plotting and motivations are believable and are historically relevant. The reason to keep reading is not for a surprise ending, but for the character development and the happy endings our hero and heroine make for each other.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us. An advanced copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.