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. 

Monstrous Beauty first caught my eye through the pretty cover and the main story being about mermaids because mermaids. I was a little put off on how the back cover was your stock YA boy and girl kissing–but this was after I had purchased and received the book in the mail and I already started reading it. Nonetheless, I found this novel incredibly interesting, engaging, and the romance didn’t go beyond the nice and the necessary. Though I have to give a bit of warning that there’s a rape scene during one of Syrenka’s chapter, so if you’re uncomfortable with those things especially, I would probably try to skip that.

One of the things I absolutely loved about the novel was the back and forth between the present with Hester and the past with Syrenka. The stories become intertwined well and the pace was perfect. I loved going back and forth reading Hester’s investigation about her family history and the history of Plymouth and then later reading about Syrenka’s story with Ezra that is just charming and a great love story. I think it kept everything interesting and it brought a great deal of dramatic irony which I really like in books.

Even though this book is kind of advertised as a romance/mystery, I find it to be a lot more mystery. Though you go back and forth in time, it’s obvious that Hester’s story is the main focus and while there is some romance (for reasons that are later explained in the book ~spoilers~), most of it is mystery with a good dash of fantasy. This balance worked out really well for me because the romance didn’t make me want to advance through the pages and get it over with, it kept me reading because there was something else beneath it.

I really got into the mermaids. I love the lore that was written about them and how their descriptions were more of the sirens or the earlier descriptions of mermaids rather than the Ariel kind of mermaids. There’s a good chunk of world building and like Ezra I was just so fascinated by them and wanted to learn more. The parallels between Syrenka’s story and the original Little Mermaid was a really nice and subtle touch. Of course if you know the original story, then you know it was also very tragic and sad and I’m glad that Hester had a chance at a happy ending where Ezra and Syrenka’s didn’t.

Overall this book was well balanced and the pacing was nice. In terms of romance, fantasy, mystery, and even a little bit of tragedy Fama did a great job at mixing them all in a great story where one didn’t overpower the other. It made for easy reading and it held my attention to the very end.

My only gripe was that Hester felt a little lacking to me, but that might be because I thought Syrenka and Ezra were the more interesting and complex than Hester. There’s also a tiny bit of insta-love but I believe that it has some connection to what you find in the novel. If you read it and come to a conclusion I’d love to know.

Final thoughts: Monstrous Beauty brings romance, tragedy, mystery, and fantasy into a beautiful story and kept me entertained.

Rating: 4.5/5

Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author: Elizabeth Fama
Pages: 295
Published: September 4, 2012 by BYR
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Buy it: Barnes and Noble | Book Outlet | Kobo | Book Depository

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