By Elizabeth Fama
Available Sept 2012
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.
This Blonde’s Review:
Syrenka is a mermaid. This means she has no soul, is immortal, and has few of the sensitivities of humans. Yet she wants to love more than anything. Her love for Ezra is dangerous for both of them. He could die if she isn’t careful and she could be caught if anyone sees them together. We are able to watch Syrenka’s journey from mermaid to human and then watch the ways she grows into her newly acquired soul. Things happened in the past that have had grave consequences on the present.
Hester refuses to do anything about the feelings she has for her best friend. The women in her family always die after they have their first child, even if the birth goes smoothly. She believes her family has a genetic defect that is undiscovered. She has decided to beat the curse by never falling in love, never having sex, and never having a child.
Then she meets a man named Ezra on the beach. He’s mysterious but something about him draws her and she can’t resist wanting to be closer to him. Through him she starts to consider the idea that maybe her family has been cursed. For a chance to be closer to Ezra she is willing to try to break the curse on her family. What she doesn’t realize is there is more to Ezra than she knows. There is actually more going on in her hometown than she ever imagined possible, and Ezra has more to do with it than she would believe.
Monstrous Beauty is not a typical mermaid story. In this book we are shown the way mermaids really would be, wild and more animalistic than human. They want something and they take it. Syrenka wanted to become human to be with Ezra, but until she was captured and something terrible happened to her, she had never had a good chance before. When she takes that chance she never considered how that action would set them on a path to destruction.
We see Hester and Syrenka’s stories play out in alternating chapters as they draw to simultaneous conclusions. The way the author wrote this was fabulous. There were things that were obvious to any reader, such as the unlikely chances of two men named Ezra being the man these women love. While we knew that Ezra the present must be the ghost of Ezra the past, his character is still curious and fascinating because it isn’t immediately clear how he came to haunt the beach. It’s something I didn’t see coming until it was happening.
Our book isn’t full of perfect characters fighting for their perfect love. We have characters who can be loving, selfish, even violent and vengeful if pushed. The characters felt complex, like we can’t love or hate them. They are people whose stories we should care about regardless of their imperfections.
I heard great things about this story and I really enjoyed this one. I loved that even with the parts of the story that were predictable, the author didn’t give away too much too soon. There were several things she waited until later to give just enough to make us know what was going on without giving our characters the knowledge. Other things she never shared until it was happening and we discovered along with our characters. Too often we have stories where the author gives too much away too soon. I was fully engaged in this story until the end.
Elizabeth Fama managed to write a strong book with many things happening at once that all fit together without confusing us. The characters are genuine and realistic enough to have fatal flaws. If you enjoy reading reading about mermaids the way they would really be instead of the Little Mermaid, then you’ll want to read about Syrenka. If you’d like to read about a woman who changed the course of several generations and the girl who can fix her mistakes, then you’ll want to read Syrenka and Hester’s story.