If you enjoyed Caraval and Daughter of the Burning City, The Electrical Venus is definitely a book you’ll want to add to your list even though it’s closer to historical fiction than fantastical romance.
Mim and Alex are members of a travelling sideshow run by Mr Grainger and his wife and - to paraphrase the back cover of my review copy – ‘it’s hard to earn your keep in the filth and thrill of Georgian England’. That’s why, when Dr Fox arrives with his marvellous Electrickery, Mim takes the opportunity to become his assistant - The Electrical Venus. Up until Dr Fox appeared, Mim and Alex were inseparable childhood companions whose friendship finally seemed to be deepening into something more intimate. As a young mixed-race ‘girl-exotic’ Mim has always felt like an outsider, and as a one-armed boy Alex has never felt accepted. Together, they are two misunderstood people with big dreams protecting each other from the storms of the world. But now everything is changing. In her guise as the Electrical Venus, Mim is the star of the show with Fox as her Svengali, and each night men jostle to pay a penny and receive an electrifying shock of love from her lips. But is love also growing between Mim and Dr Fox, or is it all magickal electrickery? As the story unfolds, Mim and Alex confide what is happening to their pets – a pig called, well, ‘pig’, and George the untameable parrot - and author Julie Mayhew beautifully immerses us into their eighteen-century world, piling on the twists and turns towards a climax which - thanks to the book’s lovely line-drawn graphics - literally ends in an explosion of… what? It’s worth hanging in there to find out, and this is a short enough read to complete in a single afternoon and entirely put a different complexion on your day.
From a personal POV, this writer initially missed the Gothic fantasy of Caraval and Daughter but quickly forgot about it within the first few pages. Mayhew’s a fantastically evocative writer and her decision to tell the story as (mostly) a series of one-sided conversations keeps us engrossed while moving the narrative along at a terrific pace. It’s easy to see how The Electrical Venus originally began life as a BBC radio play. There are also several themes in this book that are just as compelling as the central story - this is as much a book about lost childhood and the need to realise your dreams as much as it is a romance. Mayhew also does fine work of weaving disability, race and gender into the discussion. The Electrical Venus may be set in Georgian England, but its subtext is very contemporary and timelessly important.
More than anything though, it’s a wonderful story that’s complemented by some good-looking interior design. Everyone involved worked hard on this and it shows.
We wonder if, in a hundred years’ time, authors will be writing stories like these about life in the Cirque du Soleil? Somehow, sadly, we doubt it…
THE ELECTRICAL VENUS / AUTHOR: JULIE MAYHEW / PUBLISHER: HOT KEY BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW