Title: The Mermaid in the Millpond
Author: Lucy Strange
Illustrator: Pam Smy
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Genre: Older children/middle grade fiction, Historical fiction
Book format: Paperback
Description: Bess has left the London workhouse behind for a job at a rural cotton mill. But life at the mill is hard and cruel – a far cry from the fresh start Bess hoped for. The only way to survive is to escape, but the mill is like a prison with no way out.
Meanwhile, rumours are spreading about a vicious creature that lurks in the millpond. Bess is sure it’s all nonsense, until one night she sees something stir in the murky water…
*Free copy provided by publisher for review…
Review: This is such a good story. Bess has started working at the cotton mill after moving there from a London workhouse. While the other children all get along, Bess doesn’t want to make friends as she believes showing kindness will make her weak and unable to survive the hard life of the mill. But as the days working at the mill take their toll, Bess longs for a chance to escape. But escaping isn’t so easy and even if she could, lurking close to the mill and her dormitory is the millpond, rumoured to be inhabited by a dangerous creature.
This story is so interesting and compelling from the start. Told from Bess’s point of view it follows her as she settles into the difficult life of working at the mill. I like how this story shows the actual cruel life that many children had to endure during the industrial revolution, and also how dangerous working in such conditions was. But despite how harsh their life is, the story is ultimately filled with hope for Bess and some of the other characters we meet. I liked Bess from the start, even though she doesn’t want to make friends and tries to stay away from the other children to survive the toll of being alone. And despite her attitude towards the others, she’s a character I really warmed to, and the relationship and friendship she develops with Dot was something I particularly enjoyed in this story.
I don’t want to spoil it by giving away too much but the story takes a dark turn when something happens to Bess, but I love what she eventually discovers about the creature in the millpond. I won’t go into details, but I love what happens to Bess and the millpond in the end. The ending is a good one and I love how things resolve and how eerie the tale gets when it comes to the millpond. In fact it’s such a good and satisfying ending that even though the realities for many children at the time were very bleak and it’s shown well in this book how bleak it was for children working in factories at the time, I just love the message of hope at the end of this story.
There are illustrations throughout the book on some pages and they are all in black, grey and white. I just love how these illustrations really added to the atmosphere in the tale. So many of the illustrations are in a darker shade and really help to create an eerie atmosphere of the surroundings and the bleak mill. But they also show the lovely expressions on the girls’ faces and I do love how these illustrations really helped to make the story more special, especially some of the pictures towards the end of the story. The book is made of thick pages with a yellowish shade making it easier to read for those with visual difficulties and dyslexia. It also has a special dyslexia-friendly font for the text and paragraphs separated and larger text size used which just makes this book so much easier to read for anyone who struggles. It is also not a very long book making this good for reluctant readers too.
I really enjoyed reading this story, despite how short it is, there is an amazing atmosphere in the tale and I just love how it ends despite the overall bleakness of the conditions the children find themselves in. The story of the ‘mermaid’ is interesting and I just love what happens and all of the wonderful illustrations which lend to the atmosphere. It’s definitely a book I’ll read again and would recommend to anyone interested in an interesting historical fiction with a slightly fantasy element when it comes to what lurks in the millpond.
–The Mermaid and the Millpond is published on the 6th January 2022!
What do you think of this book? Do you like stories set during the industrial revolution? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂