Author: Elizabeth Fama
Genre: YA, Romance, Historical fiction, Mermaids, AWESOME
Publication Date: September 4, 2012 (Macmillan – North America)
Source: NetGalley review copy/Publisher-provided review copy
Summary: 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.
☆: 5/5 stars – absolutely stunning, left me gasping for air.
Review: Guys, it’s books like this that keep me reading YA paranormal stuff. Stunningly wrought and carefully crafted, “Monstrous Beauty” is a feast for the senses, and quite the teaser for the brain. I don’t even know where to begin talking about how much I loved this book. If you like paranormal romance and historical fiction, you simply must read this book.
I guess I’ll start with the sensory imagery/language area, as that’s the one that blew me away the most (along with the mystery tangled within the plot). Fama brings all of the Plymouth area of Massachusetts to life in all time periods – from the prologue in the 1500s, to Syrenka’s misadventures with Ezra and the townspeople in the 1870s, to our current time. I could smell the food, feel the spray of the sea on my skin and the itch of Hester’s heavy wool pretend-Puritan skirt, taste the salt of the ocean on my tongue, hear the ghosts and their pleas for help. Everything just felt so real, so solid, and everything is minutely detailed. Nothing is left to chance, everything is described in gorgeous terms. This ties into the worldbuilding, which was also excellent – while the 1500s were a little blurrier than Syrenka and Ezra’s time and our current time, everything was still built up wonderfully. The creepy church and crypt and graveyard just added to this book’s strange charm, and absolutely cast a spell over me. It felt 100% real.
The plot: While some may get dizzied by the switching time periods and points of view, stick with it. The two puzzles that Hester and Syrenka, in their separate time periods, must unravel are very intricate and complicated. I’d have to call this the relationship web school of plot, if anything – everyone is related to everyone else, and ties back into the world that Fama has created. The relationship web is VERY important when it comes to Hester’s puzzle, and later in the book, to Syrenka’s. It turns into a whodunnit tale, a chain of love, murder, and revenge, of men and monsters. Absolutely delicious all the way. (And the scene in the underwater nursery? Gave me the chills. WONDERFUL.)
The characters: I LOVED Syrenka. I wanted to give her a hug and be her bff. Not even kidding. She may be a monster, the truest kind of mermaid (or merrow, depending on which mermaid myth you subscribe to) – seducing men into their deaths, in order to get souls of their own – but she’s trying to become human. The Sea Witch was disgusting but so real that I had at least one nightmare about her. And the ghosts of everyone felt like real people until we get each and every single Big Reveal about who they really are, and how they relate to one another in the relationship web. Each character gets their own journey arc, no matter how small (yes, even the ghosts), and we get to see the results in the explosive ending. Hester was great, and slipping into her skin was extremely easy. She felt like a real, modern girl, and she’s a very sympathetic character that I think a lot of readers will be able to relate to.
I could keep going on, but I won’t. All of this book is beautiful. While I still might have had a question or two at the end of the book, I didn’t care if I got the answer because I was just so stunned at how complete the ending felt like. Fans of traditional YA PNR may not be able to relate to this one as much as Fama takes the magical realism school of literary fiction more than your normal YA PNR story – just a warning, but keep trying anyway. The ending is well worth it. “Monstrous Beauty” will be out from Macmillan in North America on September 4th, so be sure to check it out then. Its place on my best of 2012 so far list is well-deserved indeed, and it’s definitely worth the read.