Release Date: September 4th, 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Girroux
Pages: 304 pages
Rating: ★★★☆☆/ 3 out of 5
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
This story is divided up into two parts, past and present, with three different perspectives. Hester in the present, Ezra in the past, and Syrenka in the past. Syrenka is a mermaid who is enfatuated with human life and longs to be with a human man. After a thousand years of mishaps, she meets a young man named Ezra and they fall in love. Happily ever after except for the fact that it all goes horribly, disturbingly, Shakesperian-level tragically wrong. Now let's flip to the present. We have a young girl named Hester who isolates herself from people because all the women in her family have been doomed to die in childbirth, including her own mother. Hester vows she will not pass on this mysterious ailment to another baby, not to mention she really doesn't want to die herself. She shuns all physical affection and refuses to let herself feel desire until she meets a mysterious young man on the beach named Ezra who speaks in an odd old fashioned way and seems to be from a different time... I'm sure you can guess what's going on here.
This is the first mermaid book I've taken on, I don't know anything about mermaid lore aside from what I'm sure was very accurately portrayed in Walt Disney's gritty and controversial classic. (That was a joke.) But I'm glad I've started out with Monstrous Beauty, which seems to have nailed it as far as all that goes. I loved reading about the mermaids and how their culture and magic worked. I loved that they were strong and somewhat violent creatures. I loved Syrenka and Ezra's tragic love story and the beautiful way it was written. I loved the history. All of those things are 4 star material for me, but I'm sorry to say Hester and her probz really brought the entertainment value of the book down for me, overall.
Hester wasn't my cup of tea. I understood where she was coming from and I really liked her at first, but the more I read the more she annoyed me. I didn't really buy into her "love" with Ezra. Yes, I understand that spoiler(highlight to read):Syrenka/Sarah's soul was in her so it's technically not insta-love, but it still felt like it. And maybe it's just the fact that the dramatic irony in this book was so strong, being that the reader is privvy to Syrenka and her story and Hester is not, but most of the time she came across as a total dummy one minute and a genius the next. Don't get me wrong, she had her moments, and I really loved the scenes of her underwater with the mermaids, but for the most part I didn't really care about her as a character, I just enjoyed watching the mystery unravel through her point of view.
If you're super into mermaids, you will love this. If, like me, you never really felt one way or the other about them, this book still might surprise you. The storytelling was very strong when it was from Syrenka/Sarah's point of view though it did feel a bit lacking throughout Hester's bits. Still, a quality book and definitely one that lingers. I'm all jazzed up on mermaidy goodness now I'm going to go jam to Poor Unfortunate Souls.
A very rock solid 3 stars.
Review also on: Goodreads