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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

MICHELLE'S REVIEW: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Format Acquired: Hardcover
Publication Date: September 4, 2012
Publishing House: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374373665
Source of Copy: Purchased from Fully Booked

Monstrous mermaids
Vengeful ghosts
A century-old curse

When fierce mermaid Syrenka falls in love with a human named Ezra, she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land. The choice comes with horrific and deadly consequences.

Generations later, seventeen-year-old Hester knows that love and death are inextricably linked for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect, or a curse? Hester's solution is to avoid love altogether, until she meets and enigmatic stranger named Ezra and feels drawn to him in a way she can't explain or resist. Ezra may be able to help her tease apart the strands of her family's strange history: Ezra knows a thing or two about curses.

The answers Hester seeks are waiting in the graveyard, in 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 the tragedy of so long ago.

Monstrous Beauty is a dark and brilliantly plotted thriller about sacrifice, enduring love, and hope.

(Image and information courtesy of Goodreads; Summary lifted from actual book)


In all actuality, mermaid novels novels scare me, all because I find it very, very hard to find really good mermaid novels. When I read reviews saying that fans of Fama's Monstrous Beauty also adored Lanagan's The Brides of Rollrock Island, and vice versa, I was really quite excited about it, because I am very much in love with The Brides of Rollrock Island, and the prospect of another gorgeous, ethereal read is always appealing. I know it's unfair for a book to be compared to another (I mean, they are written by different people after all!) but Monstrous Beauty, sadly, did not captivate me as much as I thought it would.

Hester isn't stupid; she knows there's probably a pretty good reason why her mother, and all the women before her, died after childbirth. And what Hester initially hesitantly attributed to a genetic dysfunction, proves to be so much more. Her lineage is cursed - and it doesn't seem likely to stop with Hester. When eerie apparitions begin clamoring for Hester's attention, she knows what she must do. Only Hester can free the spirits from their ties to the earth, and break the curse, so she can break free from her own inner demons as well.

Fama's mermaids remind me of the river next to my grandmother's property in the province. There was talk that a city man never resurfaced from the water, people around the area have heard inopportune giggling and laughing in the wee hours of the morning coming from the river, and one-way wet footprints on the walkway vanished in the middle of the concrete path leading away from the river. These were what I'd imagine Fama's mermaids to be like: mysterious, possibly vicious, and maybe even real.

Syrenka wasn't exactly Disney's vanilla Ariel. She has accidentally killed a human she loved,   and extracted revenge on mortals who did her harm, but all Syrenka actually wants is to be on land with the human she loves the most. All Ezra and Syrenka ever wanted was to be happy. But given the strange circumstances of their romance, there will naturally be the traditionalists who refuse to accept that a creature like Syrenka would have a soul, much less grasp the human ideas of love and happiness.

The first few pages of Monstrous Beauty were lovely and lyrical, but as the story progressed, my interest in it waned as well. Don't get me wrong. I could very well imagine the small coastal town that Hester inhabited. Fama does a good job with world-building and letting readers envision themselves facing the treacherous waters of the sea with the wind blowing salt-laced sprays through their hair. The interpersing POVs - especially the historical one - brought out the true flavor of the story as well. With everything else being stunning, I would have to say that my problem lies with the characters. Believe me, I loved Syrenka, but that was it. All the others, I didn't care about. I didn't particularly hanker for the typical instantaneous spark between Hester and Ezra. I didn't want to root for Hester when the sea witch (who could have easily passed as Ursula) was chasing after her because she was changing the course of their reality. 

Monstrous Beauty wasn't much of a thriller from me. I had an inkling of the progression of the story, and I didn't plow through it the way I did. All I thought of was that it was quite a shame that this could have been a really great read.

Despite the predictability of the plot and the strange progression of events, Fama's Monstrous Beauty made use of stunning world-building, and a pretty interesting take on mermaids. I can definitely see myself reading this down by the river near my grandmother's  area. Who knows? Given the eery atmosphere the river provides, my feelings for Monstrous Beauty just might improve.



  1. Fabulous review! I completely agree with what you said. While I enjoyed this book, I wasn't crazy about it. I thought the romance was kind of 'meh', and like you, I just didn't really care about the characters! Still a good story, but I kind of wish it had been better.

    1. It really is a pity. The prologue had me pretty intrigued, but the rest of the book didn't really live up to my expectations. Thanks for dropping by! :)

  2. I felt much the same. I adored Syrenka and her emotional conflict. I wasn't much of a fan of Hester. I did give this book 4 stars though, and I haven't read Brides of Rollrock Island, but maybe I should. I'm not a huge fan of mermaid books either.

    Incidentally, I stumbled on your blog after seeing a comment from you on mine, and I love the way your reviews are written even if I don't completely agree with you here! New follower.

    1. If you do decide to pick up The Brides of Rollrock Island, I do so hope you enjoy. Thank you for the kind words, as well as for the follow! :)

  3. I am so not a fan of mermaid books, either! And I think all the little things that bugged you would really get to me as a reader, so I will have to skip this!

    Great, balanced review, Michelle!

    Also, hi! I just read the about me and I love that you guys love nail polish - me, too!

    Mandee @ VeganYANerds

    1. Hello to you, too! :) (Yay, another nail polish addict~)

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving some comment love for me~

  4. Aww, sorry that you didn't really enjoy it. I've had Monstrous Beauty on my to-read list for a long time, but didn't have a chance to get into it yet. Predictable plots make me cringe. I guess I'll hold off the book for awhile.

    1. Yeah, I had really high expectations for it. :( Too bad they weren't realized.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  5. Michelle, I find mermaid books to be hit or miss with me as well. I prefer them to be dark, I think I may read the book you compared it too!