Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
Publisher/Year: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2012
Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 1/2
Monstrous mermaids. Vengeful ghosts. A century-old curse.
When fierce mermaid Syrenka falls in love with a human named Ezra, she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land. The choice comes with horrific and deadly consequences.
Generations later, seventeen-year-old Hester knows that love and death are inextricably linked for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect, or a curse? Hester’s solution is to avoid love altogether, until she meets an enigmatic stranger named Ezra and feels drawn to him in a way she can’t explain or resist. Ezra may be able to help her tease apart the strands of her family’s strange history: Ezra knows a thing or two about curses.
The answers Hester seeks are waiting in the graveyard, in the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean–but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and the tragedy of so long ago.
Monstrous Beauty is a dark and brilliantly plotted thriller about sacrifice, enduring love, and hope.
What I thought
I loved this book! As a fan of fairy tales, I really enjoyed how the author portrayed the folklore of mermaids. Like a true fairy tale, this story was very dark & evocative. Actually I was surprised by just how dark, gruesome, and even gory the plot was in some parts. That is not to say that this book is all doom & gloom, but it does get pretty tragic. I would recommend this for more mature readers, as it does touch on some heavy topics, including death, gore, rape, and grief.
But anyway, back to my original point, which is that the writing was deliciously atmospheric. To me, it felt like the perfect rendition of mermaid folklore. When I think of the ocean, the words that come to mind are: dark, mysterious, tempestuous, eerie, beautiful, and lush. I think Elizabeth Fama captured that perfectly with her writing.
I also enjoyed the two storylines–one set in the past & one set in present day. I was worried that this would make the flow feel choppy, but it felt natural to me. In reading the sections set in the past, I was able to figure out the mystery before Hester did. I didn’t find that to be a bad thing though, I thought it added to the suspense as I watched Hester start to piece together the clues.
I will say again that I absolutely loved this book, but there were a couple things I wasn’t crazy about. The first one was something minor: Hester’s swearing. Now, I’m not a saint myself & swearing in books doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I guess it just sounded unnatural in her case? Unnatural & unnecessary. But that wasn’t really the thing that bothered me. I loved this book, but I did not buy the insta-love.
I get it, what the author was trying to do with the Ezra-Syrenka-Hester thing. I just never really felt the connection between Ezra & Hester. I would think if Ezra was a ghost, he would know that Hester is Syrenka’s descendent, so on his part, it felt a little creepy. And as for Hester, I really didn’t get how she went from this cynical, anti-love girl to falling instantly head-over-heels for a guy she met in a cave. All that being said, I do recognize that this is a book for young adults and that, as someone who used to be a teenager, teenagers can fall pretty hard & pretty fast. Also, I’m aware that insta-love happens pretty regularly in fairy tales. Maybe I’m just overthinking all of this, but it just kinda bugged me.
Despite the insta-love thing, I did really love this book & I can absolutely see myself re-reading this at some point. I loved the atmospheric writing & the mermaid folklore & the seaside setting. If you are looking for a mermaid tale that’s on the darker side, you NEED to read this!