22 August 2013

Audiobook Review: Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Title: Monstrous Beauty
Author(s): Elizabeth Fama
Genre(s): Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Publisher/Date: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (BYR) / September 4, 2013
Series: Stand Alone

“She looked out across the water and allowed the feeling of longing to wash over her, spill into the crevices of her soul, and fill her completely.” -Hester Goodwin

Case Study
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. (synopsis from Goodreads)

The Game's Afoot
I never thought I'd say this, but... I read a mermaid book. Now I know what you're thinking...

But seriously. I read a mermaid book, and here's the thing, I LOVED it! Monstrous Beauty is a hauntingly beautiful tale of love, deceit, fate and tragedy. It's one of those rare books that caught me completely off guard and in a very good way. 

And here's the thing... while it does contain mermaids, I wouldn't exactly say Monstrous Beauty is a mermaid book. It sort of defies being pigeon-holed as such because it contains a wide variety elements---mermaids, curses, ghosts. And yes, that's a lot of randomness but it does work. The story's told through the alternating narratives of Hester (present day) and Syrenka (the past). Normally I find this kind of switcheroo jarring, but Fama pulls it off and in a very natural way. From the get-go, you know the story's end-point but you don't know how it got there. You're like a detective, putting the puzzle together piece by piece but in a very fresh and interesting sort of way. I picked up the audiobook, narrated by Katherine Kellgren, and I highly recommend that you do too because she's magnificent; definitely one of my favourite readers to date. Kellgren's voice lulled me into a trance-like state and you can't help but hang on to her every word. 

In case you were wondering, Monstrous Beauty isn't one of those Disney-esque, happily-ever-after fairy tales, oh no. Think more along the lines of the Grimm Brothers. This isn't Ariel we're dealing with here. These mermaids are fiercely alluring but with an added fear factor: we're talking pointed teeth and sharp claws. Oh yeah. They've got a deadly amount of strength, they're super vindictive aaaaaand also kind of terrifying. Then there's Hester. She's the average, reliable, girl-next-door type who has both brains and snark. At the beginning, she's confident and gawkward but as the story progresses and things get crazy, she becomes vulnerable and desperate and kind of stupid. I'm talking teenage-girl-in-love-for-the-very-first-time kind of stupid, and this of course, leads her to do some very stupid things. I gotta be honest. Hester was frustrating, particularly with regard to how she treats her friend Peter. It's kind of shitty but at least it shows imperfection and makes her a more relatable character. In fact, there's something that draws you in to each one of these characters, that makes you want to dig deeper and know more. That's how layered and interesting they are!

And if the characters don't reel you in, there's always the historical Plymouth setting and sea lure out to get you. Fama's gone to incredible lengths with the amount of research and detail she included in the book. I really liked those scholarly elements. They keep the story grounded, especially when there's so much supernatural stuff going on. Monstrous Beauty proved me wrong in that it showed me exactly why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, or in this case, by its mythical entity. The writing is eloquent, the story so incredibly imaginative that I want to be part of this world. In short, the book was amazing and I'm so glad I gave it a chance. Monstrous Beauty transported me to a magical world, both above and under the sea. Well played, Fama. Well played.

Summary Prognosis
Shockingly, Monstrous Beauty, ended up being one of my favourite reads of the year with it's engrossing storyline and engaging characters and beautiful prose. This book is full of unique twists and rich history and mythical elements, so there's something to please everyone. It's dark and creepy and haunting and romantic and I promise, you won't want to put it down. So don't judge. Just give it a try!

Rating: ★★★★★

Read It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible
Discuss It: Goodreads | Author's Website
Extras: Listen to an audio clip here


  1. A mermaid book? Sounds cool though. I like it when the author does their research. Nice post!

  2. I know, I actually surprised myself with this one! Mermaids aren't really my thing, but this one didn't use it as a main focus. Like they were there but the book didn't revolve around them, which is why I think I liked it so much. Definitely beautifully written, for sure.

  3. You loved this mermaid book? I feel like they are never done very well. I guess now I will just have to read this one to find out for myself. It does sound magical. :)

    1. It's sort of a misnomer to call this a mermaid book. It's more like, there are mermaids present but the book itself is more about ghosts and supernatural/historical events than it is about mermaids. It was really well done and I honestly loved it. I recommend the audio version because the reader really brings all the magic to life!


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