Author: Elizabeth Fama
Pages: 304 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date: September 4, 2012
I received an ARC from NetGalley.
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.
Mermaid books have yet to impress me and even Monstrous Beauty, which is a fabulous mix of fantasy, folk lore, and mystery, failed to wow me. It's beautifully written and drew me in from the prologue, but then fell off somewhere in the middle. The mermaids in this book are beautiful, yet terrifying, and a bit tragic. The overall tone of the book is on the darker and more mature, but I liked that a lot.
The story alternates between past and present which is something I really enjoy. Hester is our present day heroine, who is afraid of her family history. All of the women seem to die shortly after childbirth, so Hester is determined to avoid love and sex at all costs. She's also taken an interest in the so-called church hauntings. Are there ghosts or something else? And do her ancestors have something to do with it? Then we have Ezra who lives in 1872 and falls in love with a mermaid who nearly kills him. His tale is full of loss and sorrow, and I enjoyed his chapters much more than Hester's.
While it starting off quite promising, around the midpoint it felt like the author was trying to do too much with the story. There were mermaids, sea witches, forbidden love, ghost hauntings, reincarnation, and all kinds of other things thrown out there. Somehow I also got bored with it towards the end. I had figured many things out before Hester thanks to the historical chapters, and it just became a waiting game to see when she'd figure it out and when we finally get the whole story.
Another reason why I think I was let down by Monstrous Beauty was that it became too much of a ghost story. I've had pretty bad luck with ghost books, so combined with my less than stellar track record with mermaids, it was a recipe for disaster. Luckily, the concept for this one was so unique and I enjoyed the writing that I was still able to enjoy it.
In the end, Monstrous Beauty is most definitely not a bad book. It's beautiful and complex, but it became something I just didn't particularly care for. Fans of mermaids, ghosts, and mysteries are certain to love this one. I just happen to be iffy about those three genres.
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