Mere Mortals is an excellent Gothic story filled with drama, intensity, romance, and a vivid setting that stands out in almost every scene. The mystery is somewhat surprising in that the clues are slowly laid out along the way and the reader is left to interpret them. You can either see through the disguise as Myles does, remain innocently clueless like Crispin, or indulge in the fantasy like Jude. The characters all represent vitally important but different personalities that together form a complex yet fascinating story. Historical drama is not always a favorite genre among readers but you won’t want to miss this one.
The plot starts with first person narrator Crispin as he arrives on the cold, isolated shore of Horsey Mere, his new home. He is soon greeted by two other orphans, Jude and Myles, and the three soon realize they have many similarities. As Crispin tries to adjust to his fortunate new surroundings, he and the other boys can’t help but wonder what their generous guardian has in store for them. As the eerie elements start to add up and take over even Crispin’s blissful inattention, the answers may be the hardest truth to survive.
Right away the cold and desolate setting is introduced and enhanced by the majestic and cold house the boys are living in. The bad weather and vast, maze like rooms create a sense of isolation and chill. The relationships they build with each other are sharp, warm contrasts which stand out. The mentions of warm and cold are frequent which cast an eerie and very realistic Gothic pall over the entire story, one that is absolutely fabulous. This sets the tone immediately and never lets up. You never forget that these boys are totally alone, away from everyone and everything they thought they knew and are surrounded by servants who aren’t their friends.
While the graphic and vivid location of the story is a masterful touch, so are the various characters. The three boys offer different personalities but they show many similarities. They also are shown to be very different people than their initial actions and comments. As the narrator, Crispin doesn’t change so much as come to (finally) realize who each person is and their strengths and weaknesses. He, and often the reader, remains clueless as to the real motives and actions going on below the surface. Yet Crispin’s observations are impeccable and very apt, he often just fails to assign the right explanation and understanding.
The three boys offer three very different interpretations and I found myself happily indulging in each as the story goes on. There are plenty of clues to understand the story and the pace is never too slow or fast and so the astute reader can easily ascertain the manipulations and reasons far before the story explains but Crispin’s innocent bewilderment is a real pleasure to experience as well. He makes a perfect foil for the dark and sinister tones to the story without ever going too far into melodrama. Instead the story is near pitch perfect as it balances the various elements from romance to intrigue to drama to mystery.
I really liked that none of the characters are truly evil or maligned. There are reasons for all the actions and genuine emotion that prompts everyone to act as they do. There are no predictable villains even as the characters behave very true to form. The servants aren’t friends with the boys and the master of the house yet they are efficient and always present. Phillip as the guardian is the most unpredictable but his reasons create a fully understandable and fleshed out character, one that I pitied more than anything by the end.
There are a few negatives to the story such as the numerous editing mistakes and many missed words, which had me re-reading several sections but not everyone minds these problems. There are a few continuity issues I noticed where people and things would be in places they shouldn’t be or we didn’t see them move. However these are pretty minor in a story that is very engaging and compelling from start to finish. In fact I could easily have read this story again from the beginning as soon as I finished. I highly recommend Mere Mortals.