Book Reviews · Reading

Review: The Electrical Venus by Julie Mayhew

38559905Can this shocking new feeling be love, or is it electrickery?

In a lowly side-show fair in eighteenth-century England, teenager Mim is struggling to find her worth as an act. Not white, but not black enough to be truly exotic, her pet parrot who speaks four languages is a bigger draw than her. But Alex, the one-armed boxer boy, sees her differently. And she, too, feels newly interested in him.

But then Dr Fox arrives with his scientific kit for producing ‘electrickery’ – feats of electrical magic these bawdy audiences have never seen before. To complete his act, Fox chooses Mim to play the ‘Electrical Venus’. Her popularity – and the electric-shocking kisses she can provide for a penny – mean takings are up, slop is off the menu and this spark between her and Fox must surely be love.

But is this starring role her true worth, or is love worth more than a penny for an electrifying kiss?

An intoxicating and atmospheric coming of age story set in the filth and thrill of a travelling show during the height of the Georgian Enlightenment.

My thoughts:

  • I was SO intrigued by this book for a number of reasons. Firstly, the cover is completely stunning. Secondly, I did a module on Georgian Britain and I don’t read nearly enough fiction from this era. Thirdly, I was super excited to read a novel with a black main character.
  • The structure of this book is a little different. The book is told from multiple POVs–our main character’s chapters are written in first person, with both Mim and Alex talking to animals that are apart of their travelling act. There is then some interluding chapters in third person, that gives the reader more insight into the lives of our characters. There are also SOME fabulously historically realistic advertisements throughout the book for the travelling show. It took me a little while to get into this structure, but I adored it. Sometimes I think I (as a reader) can get a little stuck in traditional formats. This book challenged that, and it felt refreshing and added something special to the story.
  • The characterisation in this story is exceedingly good. Mim in particular jumps off the page. I can’t say enough about how engaging and strong she is as a main character. I LOVED the way that the story dealt with issues of racism, and Mim’s reaction and analysis of the world she lived in. Mim’s growth, her mistakes and her successes are raw and emotionally powerful. I adored her curiosity about science, her keen interest in learning and education.
  • Whilst this novel does have a really well developed love story at its heart, I have to say that wasn’t what I really enjoyed about this. What I loved most was Mim’s journey, her growth into adulthood and her place in the world. It was special, and done exquisitely.
  • I also think the world-building was fabulous. It just felt effortless, and realistic, which is SUCH a hard thing to do. Reading Julie’s research note at the back of the book was also a fascinating insight into the writing process.
  • Overall, this is a great feminist historical fiction novel with a romance and a PoC heroine who leaps from the page. I raced through this book, and I will definitely be reading more of Julie’s books in the future.

Thank you to the publisher for sending me this book in exchange for a honest review! THE ELECTRICAL VENUS publishes on April 19th!

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