Wendy Darling's Reviews > Monstrous Beauty

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
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Take a photographic tour of the Monstrous Beauty world as Elizabeth Fama stops by The Midnight Garden to kick off her blog tour! Plus win a finished hardcover of the book.

It was a woman--as pale and luminescent as a ghost, with swirling white hair. Ezra startled, dropping his pencil into the water. Her face snapped toward him. Her eyes were too large, clear green, and had horizontal, slit-shaped pupils, reminiscent of an octopus.

Did your pulse quicken when you read that paragraph? Mine did! I had a feeling I was going to love this book, because it blends several different things that I love: mermaids, the nineteenth century, and ghosts. What I wasn't prepared for was an unconventionally striking story that will definitely not appeal to someone looking for a typical YA paranormal book. I found this dark fairy tale to be wildly exciting and utterly gorgeous, however, and I think it will find its audience in readers who enjoy literary fiction or more mature YA.

In the late 1800s, a mermaid named Syrenka makes a terrible mistake in judgment as she seeks companionship. More than a hundred years later, 16-year-old Hester searches for the mystery behind a tragic curse that has haunted her family for generations. The book alternates between past and present in a small fishing town in Plymouth, Massachusetts, and the shifts in time and multiple POVs are handled with skillful aplomb. Deep secrets are slowly revealed in both young women's pasts, and a fine thread of tension running through the story eventually escalates into scenes of shocking madness and violence.

There are despairing stolen souls. Creepy churchyards. A woman drowned in a sarcophagus. Rape. Underwater doll graveyards. A boy who (view spoiler) gives his heart for the one he loves. A truly repulsive mermaid queen (view spoiler)! Through it all, the seductive beauty of the language irresistibly lures the reader into the story's unique mythology, so that by the end of the book the lonely, painful fates of the characters seem as gut-wrenchingly immediate as your own.

"Even in rage, she was eerily beautiful."

Syrenka is such a splendidly doomed creature, however, that Hester unfortunately pales just a bit in comparison in the beginning. Because readers see the perspectives of both past and present, they'll likely guess certain truths well before Hester does, which provides a few moments of frustration. Later in the book, however, Hester's story takes on more shape and her choices are both brave and heartbreaking in their necessity. The plot has many twists and turns, and while I did guess quite a few of the surprises, this didn't detract from my enjoyment of this beautifully crafted story at all.

Mermaid lovers should note the sea creatures in this story are incomparable to anything that has come before them; the disturbing nature of their animal instincts and deadly muscularity is boldly unapologetic, and the story is all the better for it.

Readers who appreciate literary young adult fiction will love this book. Monstrous Beauty's dark moodiness is incredibly evocative, and the startling originality of its story--as well as the lush vividness of its imagery--will not soon be forgotten.

Strongly recommended: for fans of Angela Carter, Cat Hellisen, Margo Lanagan, and possibly Laini Taylor; for adults who don't normally read young adult fiction and for mature YA readers; and finally, for anyone who has been searching tirelessly for a mermaid book that truly transcends its genre.

Heed the siren call: this mermaid story is unlike any other you've read.

This review also appears in The Midnight Garden. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
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Reading Progress

03/31/2012 page 58
20.0% "Holy crap. This mermaid does not mess around." 6 comments
04/01/2012 page 232
79.0% "Monstrous mermaids, ghosts, murder, and now an underwater graveyard of dolls. *shiver* This book has gone utterly mad...and I love it!" 5 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 240) (240 new)


message 1: by Lark (new) - added it

Lark Alexandar Yes, please!


Wendy Darling Hee, I hope so, Lark. :) We've been waiting for a good mermaid book for far too long, this one sounds promising.


message 3: by Lark (new) - added it

Lark Alexandar :)


Kelsey I am reading it now and I love how dark and original it is!


message 5: by Alison (new)

Alison Read Sirena by Donna Jo Napoli, it's a mermaid book (: I don't know if you'll like it... but I loved it!


Wendy Darling I'm glad to see you liked it, Kelsey!

And thanks for the rec, Alison. :) I have Sirena on my very long list of mermaid books to read already, but it's good to hear more good things about it.


Giselle This is on Netgalley Wendy! :)


Katy It's hauntingly beautiful, and totally different from your typical mermaid book. BUT I had a hard time getting through it sometimes, and I can't put my finger on why. I gave it 3.5 stars though I'm not sure if I should round up or down.


Wendy Darling I missed your comment, Giselle--thank you! I ended up getting an ARC from the publisher, which I'm really happy about. :)

And ohhh, "hauntingly beautiful" sounds great to me, Katy. I'm glad to be forewarned about your reservations, though--look forward to comparing notes with you when I get a chance to read/review. I'm trying to be good and get through most of the ones that are releasing sooner first, but it's so hard! Such a pretty cover, and honestly--the Victorian/ghost/mermaid thing is right up my alley.


message 10: by Ai Haibara (new)

Ai Haibara OMGOMGOMG
The premise sounds so so AMAZING! :D
Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one Wendy :P


Wendy Darling I've only read the first couple of chapters so far, but I think it's going to be a good one, Ai. Yay! It's so difficult to find good mermaid books.


message 12: by Ai Haibara (last edited Mar 10, 2012 07:33PM) (new)

Ai Haibara I have not read any good mermaid books so far. The only good book that I've read that's close to Mermaids is Lure. I highly recommend that :)


message 13: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam Ooh, glad you think it looks promising so far! I agree that mermaid books can be pretty hit and miss. Fingers crossed this is a good one. ;) I grabbed it off NetGalley so I'm looking forward to hearing what you think! :)


Wendy Darling Oh yes, I have that one on my list, Ai. :) The only YA mermaid book that I've liked so far is Lies Beneath; there are a few others coming out this year that look promising, though!

I look forward to comparing notes with you, Sam! Fingers crossed indeed. :)


message 15: by Laura (new)

Laura Can't wait for your review! I'm not the biggest mermaid fan but I also wonder where are the good mermaid books. I mean, there must be at least one, right? LOL


Wendy Darling I'm hoping this one is great, Laura! But I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, too, as I don't want to be disappointed, either. We'll see how it goes!


message 17: by Laura (new)

Laura Fingers crossed-I'm a huge mermaid fan too.


message 18: by Purcheria (last edited Mar 13, 2012 09:08PM) (new)

Purcheria I'm also waiting to see what your thoughts are on this book as well. I have read a couple of mermaid books and pretty much gave up on them..So hopefully this willl hit the spot?.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Ooooo! *crosses fingers* I really hope this becomes "The" Mermaid book. There are no good ones. At all.


Gabrielle Carolina I read the prologue and oh, man, will read after the first Grisha book.


Chelsea Super excited to read this one!!! Can't wait to see what you think of this one


Wendy Darling Laura, Purcheria, Ally, I had NO luck with YA mermaid books until Lies Beneath this year, which I thought was pretty good. If this goes the direction I hope it will, it will be even better.

Ooo, I look forward to comparing notes with you, Gabrielle! The prologue is great, isn't it?

I had to put this down for a bit, Chelsea, but hopefully will be picking it up again this week. :) I have been dying to read this book for a long time, too.


message 23: by Anne (new)

Anne Me also wants fantastic mermaid book. (When I saw the cover of this one, I freaked out a little, thinking the dreaded ubiquitous-YA butterfly was sneaking in from stage right, but it's just a fish tail. Whew.)


Wendy Darling Hah hah. No butterflies in this book cover, Anne. Just a wan, troubled sea creature.


Gabrielle Carolina I don't adore this cover; I think Lies Beneath is my favorite Mermaid cover this season. I don't have that one though. : ( Sad.


message 26: by Larissa (new) - added it

Larissa Hoping this book is amazing! Been looking forward to it for awhile :]


Sanette ooooh I cannot wait for this book. The cover and description totally pulled me in. I'm looking forward to your thoughts.


message 28: by Kristen (new) - added it

Kristen Cant wait to hear what you think of this I like the cover too! I havent read a mermaid story that Ive really enoyed yet.


message 29: by Wendy Darling (last edited Mar 15, 2012 12:42AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wendy Darling I actually really like the cover, Gabrielle. It's all dark and she's not a typical beauty, and I thought it was a more unusual choice for YA. The ARC has really nice raised dark-gold lettering, which makes the whole effect very pretty. I liked Lies Beneath, too, though!

I hope it's amazing too, Larissa, Sanette, Kristen! It's bout time we get a batch of good YA mermaid books. :) Fingers crossed.


Sanette Don't know if you have read Tempest Rising yet but I thought it was a pretty good Mermaid book but I am really looking forward to this one. Hope my excitement is worth it :-)


Wendy Darling I haven't read that yet, Sanette, but one of my other friends recommended that, too. :) I'll get to it eventually, there are a lot of mermaid books to wade through. Hah hah, wade through.


Nafiza Wendy, have you read (or heard of) Merrow by Ananda Braxton-Smith. It sounds sooo amazing but typically for Australian books not readily available at all.


Wendy Darling Yes! Shirley Marr told me about it when I was complaining about Ripple last year. And not only that, but she sent me the book as last month, too! That makes 6 mermaid books to read this year, I think.


Nafiza Gah! Read it and tell me what you think!


Wendy Darling I will! I will read all the mermaid books that ever existed! But it might take a little bit of time to get through them all. Merrow seems to be quite short, though. Did it get on your radar for any specific reason?


message 36: by Cindy (new) - added it

Cindy this sounds good, can't wait for your review:)


Nafiza Yeah, I read a glowing review a while ago and you know how it is with books you don't have - you go crazy wanting them. Hehe.


Wendy Darling Hah, as soon as I finish it, Cindy. :) Or start it, really--I still haven't gotten past the first couple of chapters because it's been so busy. Not the book's fault at all, though! I should probably take it off my "currently reading" so people don't get the wrong idea.

Oh yeah? Was the review here on GR, Nafiza? And yes, I know what you mean. Especially for those darned Aussie titles that are so expensive to begin with.


Nafiza Nope, it was a blog (and for some reason I didn't save the address) but it convinced me big time. It looks brilliant though. I'm trying to convince myself not to spend $21 on Van Badham's Burnt Snow (Australian vampire novel).


Sanette Wendy Darling wrote: "I haven't read that yet, Sanette, but one of my other friends recommended that, too. :) I'll get to it eventually, there are a lot of mermaid books to wade through. Hah hah, wade through."

hahaha LOVE IT! :-)


Wendy Darling I am the master of the mortifying pun when it comes to books. :D


message 42: by Nisha (new)

Nisha Heyy, I sea what you did there ;) I'm so excited to read this book, I'm afraid I'm building it up too much in my head!! D:


Wendy Darling Heh. Same here, Nisha--I'm trying to keep my expectations in check. (view spoiler)


Gabrielle Carolina *sing song voice* It's really goo-ood! : )


Wendy Darling Oh man, 5 stars, Gabrielle? Ack, I must read it! I put this aside because I haven't written my LIES BENEATH review yet, and I have to read VICIOUS DEEP this/next week and I didn't want to get all my merpeople mixed up. Soon, though! I'm glad to see you loved it. :)


Gabrielle Carolina Wendy Darling wrote: "Oh man, 5 stars, Gabrielle? Ack, I must read it! I put this aside because I haven't written my LIES BENEATH review yet, and I have to read VICIOUS DEEP this/next week and I didn't want to get all m..."

Really, really did. I think it took Masque down to my third favorite of the year, with Amelia Anne still reigning victorious.


Wendy Darling I haven't gotten my hands on Amelia Anne yet. *plots furiously*


message 48: by [deleted user] (new)

Ooo, what is this Amelia Anne?


Wendy Darling Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Ally. Another one I'm highly anticipating and Gabriella Carolina is teasing me about!


Gabrielle Carolina Wendy Darling wrote: "Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, Ally. Another one I'm highly anticipating and Gabriella Carolina is teasing me about!"

SO good. Love it. Very literary fiction and I like that in my YA- helps the genre stretch EVEN FURTHER! (Closer and closer to world domination we draw!)

I would offer to lend, but it has been passed along to my mum.


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