Friday 16 February 2018

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Review: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth FamaMonstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama (bought) - 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.
From Goodreads.

Trigger Warning: Rape is a feature in this book.

Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama sounded like such an incredible book, but I was left with mixed feelings.

It's in no way a bad book, I think it's down to personal preference. It's absolutely gripping in regards to writing; I was completely captivated and couldn't put it down, but at the same time, it's also a little slow - or at least, Hester's story is. The story is told in alternating chapters, past - 1872-73 - with Syrenka, and present, with Hester. I was much more interested in what happened in the past than in the future. That was probably because both are linked, and, with Syrenka, the reader sees things as they happen, where as with Hester, we're waiting for her to work things out about the past, and she may not work out what we've just read for another few chapters. Because I already knew what she was trying to discover, I was much more interested in what would happen next with Syrenka. Most chapters would end on little cliff-hangers, and so you'd have to read a chapter from the alternate time before you could find out where the cliffhanger would lead.

I found the intensity of the love in this book a bit hard to believe. It's insta-love, obsessive love, but without much foundation. There are only a few times when Hester has conversations with Ezra, and those conversations are really short. She doesn't really know the guy at all, and yet this overwhelming love seems to hit her out of nowhere. Granted, there could be an explanation for that, but we don't find that out until much later on, so I spent a lot of time frowning at Hester, thinking, "Really?" And with Syrenka and her Ezra, we don't actually see them fall in love. We see the first time they meet, but after that, numerous meetings happen off-page, so perhaps their love is a little more gradual, but we don't see it. Even so, it's also obsessive love. It all just seemed a bit much.

Monstrous Beauty is also a really grisly book. It's full of violent deaths, and Syrenka's transformation into human is pretty horrific. It's not overly graphic and descriptive, but it did turn my stomach a little. At the same time, when things are finally revealed, as to what the "horrific and deadly consequences" as described in the description are, I was left thinking, "Is that it?" Don't get me wrong, I had moments of "woah!", but once the tragedy had happened, I was taken aback by how different it was to what I expected. How the curse is created. I was expecting something a bit more sinister, something evil spawned from the desire for revenge. And though things do get pretty bad, they don't get as bad as I was expecting, and Syrenka didn't turn out to be the kind of person I thought she'd be.

I also felt a little let down by Hester's ending. Once she worked everything out, and realised what she had to do, what she actually had to do seemed far too easy. It wasn't the nicest thing to witness, and she has a few issues, but it was pretty easy in the end. And I felt a little let down by that. After everything that happen in Syrenka's time, after all the tragedy, that's all Hester had to do? I just felt it should have been more difficult. Emotionally, for Hester, it is, but physically, it's the simplest thing.

There's also a little predictability to it, in regards to Hester's time. I'm not talking about what's revealed in Syrenka's chapters, but just in things you have to work out as a reader along with Hester. But Hester took ages to work out things that were pretty damn obvious to me, which just made Hester seem stupid. But I rather think that's a flaw in storytelling, that these particular things were really obvious to me. I can't really say much without spoiling things, but I do think there should have been more mystery around certain elements of the story.

Monstrous Beauty isn't a bad story, and it's a really intriguing The Little Mermaid retelling. I was captivated and gripped, but then also rolling my eyes, and feeling slightly let down by the reveal. But as I said, I think it's mostly just me, and my preference rather than huge problems with the book. It's still a book I think I enjoyed overall, because it's been several days since I finished it, and I'm remembering it pretty fondly, but I did have a few quibbles. So maybe read some other reviews before you decide whether or not you'll read it.

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Published: 1st October 2013
Publisher: Square Fish
Elizabeth Fama's Website

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