Published by: Farrar Straus and Giroux on September 4, 2012
Genre: Fantasy, Mermaids, Romance
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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.
I have read no other book like Monstrous Beauty. We have mermaids, ghosts, history, lineage, love, heartbreak, and a fascinating story with multiple characters whose lives, deaths, and fates are all intertwined.
I love how Monstrous Beauty is told in two different time periods: modern day and the 1800s. It allows us to follow Hester’s life as she tries to piece together her history, and follow Syrenka’s life as she lives the very history that Hester is trying to uncover. We read about Syrenka’s tragedy, and then switch to Hester trying to figure out her lineage, and what may be a curse that follows her family.
Monstrous Beauty is riddled with a lot of death and sadness. The truth that finally emerges is really devastating.. but I won’t spoil it for you. 😉 The mermaids are brutal, harsh, and violent. They earn a very bad reputation amongst the sailor and fishermen’s myths, and for the most part, it is well deserved.
I was actually surprised how little romance is in the book. Obviously, the story itself was fueled by romance, but it doesn’t dominate the story at all. The main point of the story is really the mystery aspect—Hester trying to learn about her lineage. She follows clues from the library to the graveyard to the bottom of the ocean. She tries to figure out why all the mothers in her family die after giving birth. The reason behind that is linked to a tragic love story, but we mostly learn about the history of that love rather than actually experience it first-hand.
I suppose the romance was my main disappointment. It was sweet between Syrenka and Ezra, but there wasn’t much romance between Hester and Ezra. Obviously it all gets explained in the end and it makes sense, but the romance between Hester and Ezra was so small, fleeting, and insta-lovey that I didn’t care for it. There is a reason for that insta-love, but it didn’t make it much more tolerable for me.
I think the main problem is that the real romance was between Syrenka and Ezra. But since their story was really the backstory to the main story (with Hester), we don’t see the full development of that romance. We just see tiny bits and pieces of it. Then Hester’s romance with Ezra is like BAM all at once. I was expecting a really hot, intense, passionate romance that defied all odds and time itself; I didn’t quite realize that the main component here was the mystery, rather than the romance. From the little bits that we do see, I’d say the romance is based more on infatuation and the time period (in the 1800s people didn’t date for years before marriage; if it wasn’t an arranged marriage, people often went, “Hmm you’re hot. Let’s get married!”).
But overall, I really enjoyed this story. I loved trying to piece together all the facts and uncover the truth. Once I got about 60 or 70% through, I pretty much already knew exactly what the ending will be, which was a bit of a bummer. But the book was still dark, creepy, and very much worth reading! My favourite part is definitely how all the characters come together at the end. They all play a significant role in the history, and it’s brilliant to see how they overlap and intertwine!