Mermaids and steamboats might make an odd-sounding mix for a graphic novel, but Mark Siegel has blended them into a fantastic yarn in this wonderful supernatural mystery.
Twain is the captain of a steamboat, which ploughs its way up and down the Hudson from New York to Albany. A stern man with a purpose, he’s saving his wages so he can take his wife to see the world. That is, until the day he drags an injured mermaid from the water, and his world is tipped upside-down.
The mermaid has been pierced by a harpoon, so he hides her in his cabin and slowly nurses her back to health. He makes the mermaid promise that she won’t use her siren song to lure him into her world, and she agrees, allowing them to build a more natural relationship than usual, but he still struggles to keep from falling in love with her aquatic beauty.
Meanwhile, the ship’s owner, Lafayette, is also travelling with the boat. However, his sole purpose seems to be to work his way through the women of the ship, whatever their social or marital status. Twain becomes nervous that his mermaid might become another of Lafayette’s conquests, reinforcing his desire to keep her a secret.
From there the plot churns like the Hudson below the steamer’s paddles, revealing more secrets, mysteries and hidden agendas as the book progresses. It’s gently but rhythmically paced, fleshing out characters and cleverly building (and smashing) the reader’s expectations as it goes. It’s a sumptuous, luxurious read.
The artwork is just as plush. The monochrome style seems to fit the period, and the characters are caricatures, but full of emotion and depth. The boat is almost a character in its own right, crammed full of interesting people from all walks of life. But nothing is wasted, and even these individuals add depth and character to the book as a whole.
You don’t have to be interested in mermaids to read this. I found it engaging and beautiful in equal measure, and would recommend it to anyone who likes a ripping yarn, expertly told.