Review: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Publication Date: September 4th, 2012
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Format: E-ARC
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, 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 to the tragedy of so long ago.

Well. That was unexpected.

Merfolks novels has never been my cup of tea; they almost, always manage to disappoint me. I’ve been staying clear of them just because I find it hard to summon enough interest to keep on reading. Imagine my surprise when Monstrous Beauty broke the mold.

The novel is rich in history, legend and myth – there’s even ghost stories. I went into this book expecting the usual tales about forbidden love between humans and merfolks and yeah, it has those but outside of that romantic element, Ms. Fama’s beautifully written book deviated from every other mer novels I’ve ever read.

It was clear that she worked very hard with research and it showed in the deceptively unique mythology that she’d woven in her work. The pages are ripe with a haunting ambiance characteristic of your usual siren novel but her world was well conceptualized – in both land and sea. It spoke volumes of the time and study spent giving birth to this book. She also took pains in painting a different picture of the usually beautiful merfolks we’ve come to know and at the same time, she showed great restraints in making it seem less contrived. The creativy and imaginative writing shows with every ominous scenes. This book was layered with chilling ghost stories softened with a timeless romance.

Hester’s investigation to her family’s curse led to a lot of the intertwined histories of the characters. At first, I was overwhelmed; having to remember everyone’s connection to one another seemed very tasking. But the more I got involved in the story, the easier it become. Having said that, I think that this book will frustrate some readers following the genealogy of the curse and the characters’ roles in relation to its origin.

Verdict: Intelligently written, hauntingly beautiful. Recommended to YA readers in need of diversion from the usual fare. Fair warning: This book is a bit graphic, so I think this is for older YA readers.

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