Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Review: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous Beauty
Elizabeth Fama
Publication date: September 4th 2012
by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

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.
*A copy was provided by Macmillan for review purposes*

I have tried to read mermaid books - a new hype in today's YA market - and book after book I keep finding myself disappointed, realizing that these water beings are simply not my forte... until now. Is it the dark, twisted plot? Is it the violent, yet beautiful story? Is it the combination of local sea lore mixed with curses, murders, love, and horror? Let's just say, this is definitely more up my alley than the froufrou mermaid books that I have been using for kindling lately.

Monstrous Beauty welcomes the old sea-folk lore, where mermaids are beautiful, perilous beasts who seduce and kill those who unfortunately come upon their waters. There is even mention of specific lore details such as the goddess Atargatis; I can't say I was extremely familiar with the mythology myself, but this book piqued my interest enough to have me browsing Wikipedia to learn more about it. It's a very fascinating subject with a lot of history and legends surrounding it. Though knowing absolutely nothing about the history of these sea creatures will not diminish your enjoyment of this book in the least, it's merely to say that it will increase your appetite for it. Rich imagery created by brilliant descriptions turns these mythical beings, as well as their underwater world, the villagers, the alternating time periods, all of it, into a strikingly picturesque tale. It may revolve around it, but the mermaids are not the only thing to look forward to in this novel; we have a cursed family, a love story, an enthralling history, and even a few ghosts.

Naturally, with such vicious creatures in our midst, we get a plot that is much darker than your usual paranormal mermaid novel. It's violent, gory at times, with scenes of horror and seduction that I would not normally expect from a YA novel, making me recommend this for more mature readers. I found these aspects really impacted the seriousness of the mermaid myth. They are not, in fact, sweet loveable creatures. They're manipulative, treacherous monsters who will make you look at The Little Mermaid in a whole new light.

Hester is dealing with a genetic defect that has killed all mothers in her family after they have given birth, but when she meets the mysterious Ezra, he helps her figure out some answers to this apparent curse. The mesmerizing manner this story is told keeps a perfect pace, constantly bringing us deeper into this fiercely gripping tale, never letting our attention falter. While Hester is delving farther into her unusual family history, we get thrown into the past where a passionate love story with mermaid Syrenka and her human lover unfolds. With the past and the present intertwining in more ways than one, this whirlwind romance quickly becomes a richly developed mystery. And even though I solved large parts of it long before Hester -- in some cases I even marveled at how easily she could have deciphered it if only she thought it through for a minute -- I still enjoyed the thrilling climax which is soon followed by a flawless ending.

Exciting, dark, and positively gorgeous, Monstrous Beauty has finally given me a mermaid book to rave about, throwing my expectations right out of the water (Ha! I made a pun!). A must read for those who would prefer their mermaid books in a more sinister tone.

4 Hot Espressos