Krista Reviews: Elizabeth Fama's - "Monstrous Beauty"

Fama_Monstrous BeautyFierce, 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.

Hardcover, 295 pages  Published September 4th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

ISBN  0374373663 (ISBN13: 9780374373665)

Last year here on the site we read Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan for a book club pick. This book, like that one, revolves mostly around the idea of sea creatures coming to live on land. The story follows a 17 year old, Hester, and the “love curse” that has fallen upon her family. We learn about the curse through flashbacks to Syrenka’s life and Hester’s research.  Monstrous Beauty is a historical fantasy fiction with a few paranormal twists; a very unique read that is full of mythology, detailed research for historical accuracy and yet draws on the emotions of a mystery/detective novel.

With some subject matter that is more appropriate for more mature readers, Monstrous Beauty takes us through a tumultuous story of a young Hester. With this curse put upon her family, she has rejected the idea of finding love for herself, yet is still drawn to two different boys as she tries to solve the mystery of the curse.

After reading several mermaid books this year, what caught my attention was the mermaids’ connection to the land and I loved the mythology behind Syrenka’s life. Elizabeth Fama’s version of the mermaid is dark, terrifying and completely engrossing. Hester on the other hand is portrayed as naive and emotional but I found it was fitting for the time setting. With a young girl trying to solve a century plus old curse, the switching between the past and present helped build the tension as the story grew. The reader will question when, if ever, Hester will catch up to what we already know. 

When Hester does put the clues together it is a very dramatic and fast paced ending with plenty of paranormal activity.  I was not expecting ghosts to show up in a mermaid story, but with several supernatural elements blending in, it makes for a very unique and interesting read.


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