Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release Date: September 4th, 2012
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Source: NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Blurb: 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.
Review: I was hesitant about reading this book after the drama over a particular blog post this author wrote called Kill My ARC. I’d rather not talk about it, but just know that it was a blog post that offended a good number of book bloggers. A few of them decided not to read this book, and I fully support that decision. Suffice it to say that I was not pleased with the blog post and did not agree with the majority of her views at all. But after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to read Monstrous Beauty anyway. Why? Because I believe authors are entitled to their opinions even if I don’t agree with them. At the same time, I can choose NOT to read a book based on an author’s opinion. But in this case I wasn’t all that offended. It did bother me, but I am much MORE offended when an author attacks a book reviewer for not reviewing their book the way they feel the reviewer should have. Basically what I am saying is that I deal with bad author behavior on a case-by-case basis. And in this case, I let it slide. Plus I really, REALLY wanted to read this book. And I am glad I did.
Monstrous Beauty was freaking fantastic. So far mermaid books and I have not meshed well together. I would still say for the most part that this is a true statement, but I really enjoyed this book. Maybe it was because it was not just about mermaids. There are so many other story elements that play a part in the story: ghosts, uncovering a secret family history, curses, murder, and a really atmospheric setting that connected it all together in a really fantastic way.
This is probably the right time to mention that Elizabeth Fama is an extremely talented writer. Her words have a way of hitting me in all the right places. She strings sentences together brilliantly and you would never know that this is only her second book. To me it felt like she had been writing for decades. I really was a fan of the atmosphere, tone, and sentence structure in this book. Some writing styles flow really well and some just grate on a reader’s nerves, while some writing styles make you sigh with pleasure. The latter was the case for me. I don’t think I have enjoyed a writing style this much since Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.
One POV in the book is set in the past and one is set in the future. I really liked this because it really felt like the story started weaving together from two different perspectives right from the very beginning. The suspense continuing to grow until the culmination, where the connections are finally made and all the story threads tied together. I was then left with a wonderful conclusion that left me feeling the entire range of emotions on the spectrum.
Since we are talking about POV, this is the perfect place to talk about the characters, or more importantly, the two protagonists. Yes, in my eyes there were two, but I was definitely more fond of one than the other. And this is where I ran into a problem with Monstrous Beauty. I loved Syrenka. She was humble, gorgeous, intelligent, yet she was flawed in a few important ways. I can’t say how without spoiling the book, but she is a pretty special character that will leave you crying, laughing, groaning, angry, but ultimately really rooting for her. I cannot say the same for Hester. I didn’t hate Hester as a character, I just found her cold. She made a comeback towards the latter third of the book, but up until that point I found her whiny, mean, and incredibly selfish. And that’s a problem because she also felt kind of flat. Put simple, I just didn’t like her very much. The author should have given her some redeemable qualities in the beginning. Readers need something to root for. I don’t mind unlikable characters, but they have to have personality if you are going to write them that way. Hester was just a boring bratty girl. But I got past that because everything else about Monstrous Beauty was stunning.
Parts of this book are a little predictable and I didn’t find the twists all that hard to figure out, but even so, this was an epic book. It’s definitely one that has adult crossover appeal. If you are an adult who only reads adult fiction and you are thinking of making a foray into young adult literature, this is the perfect book to start with. I’d also recommend this to any reader sick of reading mediocre mermaid books. This is definitely NOT one of them.