The Pequod Review:
As a cohesive novel, Mardi is a failure, there’s no other way to put it. But it is in many ways Herman Melville’s most fascinating work since it shows a writer in transition — one who is struggling to move beyond his early success and to challenge himself as an artist. Melville unfortunately doesn’t quite succeed; while he uses the book to explore topical issues (slavery, urbanization, and immigration, etc.) and to experiment with digressive prose and allegorical characters, his narrative is strained and is unsuccessfully joined to a traditional adventure story in the vein of Typee and Omoo.
It’s a shame since Melville came so close with Mardi. If he had gone back later in his career and revised the book (like Henry James did for his New York Editions), the result probably would have rivaled Moby-Dick. As it is, enough of it is superb, and full of his trademark exuberance and curiosity, that it nonetheless remains one of his most engaging and intelligent works.