Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Released: Sept 04, 2012
Buy: The Book Depository
It has been long overdue, but finally, here we have a mermaid book that I truly enjoyed.
Monstrous Beauty is a dark and chilling story split between two time periods. We follow Syrenka, a beautiful and deadly mermaid in the late 1800s, and we follow Hester Goodwin, a modern-day girl who lives by the sea. In Hester’s family, all women have died mere days after giving birth to their first child and Hester believes this unexplained pattern must be hereditary. She decides to research the past, and along with it, uncover the mysteries of the deaths in the local church. Meanwhile, in 1872, Syrenka is falling in love with a young naturalist she meets out at sea, and makes the ultimate decision to abandon all she has ever known to join him on land. Dire consequences follow and set in motion a set of tragic events that are, somehow, connected to Hester and her life more than a century later.
This story is one that is beautifully told. Elizabeth Fama is clearly a talented writer and her prose was utterly stunning. The transitions between the two time periods were faultless and I thought Fama handled the alternating chapters with skill. In truth, the chapters from Syrenka’s story in the 1800s captured my attention far more than Hester’s tale (which was unexpected as historical backdrops are not always my favourite kind) but this I believe is more down to Hester’s personality than the actual writing. Ultimately though, I appreciated the overall intertwining of the two individual stories as they came together as one nearing the climax. Not only do we have the most fascinating mermaid lore in the book – featuring sea creatures of the blood-curdling kind that are prone to acts of lung shredding and heart swallowing – we are also given generous doses of a ghost story and the paranormal. This is most definitely a unique book, with elements of a historical mystery holding everything together.
As with most YA books, there is a romance present. Unlike most YA books, it has a very sour taste. Hester is, of course, drawn to Ezra in his dark and dingy cave and quick to fall for him. In all honesty, I never understood her attraction to him (even with implications of her connection to Syrenka). Although both are semi-likable characters, neither held my attention as significantly as Syrenka. Without spoiling anything, I can say Fama is not afraid to take the romantic plot down an unexpected route. Come the ending, and I was almost shocked that what happened had actually happened. Maybe I am too used to neat, wrapped-up stories but clearly Fama has no objections to leaving us open-mouthed, and maybe even a little on the disappointed side for some.
Syrenka is undoubtedly the star of the show for me. She is not your average mermaid. Although capable of love and gentleness, she is as equally capable of murder and acts of brutality. As she was such a complex being, it overshadowed Hester a little and left her somewhat dull at times in comparison. Her relationship with Noo’kas – the leader of all sea folk – is not one that I truly understood, but I appreciated her nonetheless. Noo’kas is, by the way, absolutely vile. Just imagine an anteater tongue in your mouth… that’s all I’m saying.
Monstrous Beauty is a book I am certain many readers will enjoy, even those of us who are usually doubtful about mermaid tales. With its dark, uncompromising plot and its vicious sea creatures, this is a mermaid book that I will not be forgetting in a hurry.
Rating: 4 stars