Review of Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama

Monstrous BeautyMonstrous Beauty
By: Elizabeth Fama
Release Date: September 4th 2012
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Source: Purchased

My Rating:

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.

My Thoughts:
I read Plus One earlier this year and was very impressed with Fama’s writing style. I loved her vivid descriptions and complex characters. I was told by Jen at The Starry Eyed-Revue that Monstrous Beauty was an amazing read so when I saw it go on sale I had to grab a copy. Jen was correct, this book was beautifully written, haunting and heartbreaking.

Fama knows how to create characters that are incredibly complex and struggle with their own motivations and desires. I love her torn characters and each one in Monstrous Beauty had depth. The point of view flip flops every other chapter to Syrenka in the past and Hester in the present. The two women’s stories are connected and as you read you see all the ends come together in a very elegant way.

I found Syrenka’s story to be the most intriguing in the book. Her motivations were easy for me to understand and I was able to empathize with her but also fear her a bit too. The mermaid lore Fama created was mesmerizing and the details left me wanting more. A note though-be prepared that there was a scene of sexual assault that was horrible to read.

Hester was less developed to me and many of her actions were from an instinct she felt, a draw to Ezra in particular. This didn’t bother me but I wasn’t able to connect to the two’s romance. I did, however, feel Hester’s fear, sadness and tension as she grappled with learning about the undiagnosed family trait/curse generations of her ancestors have died from.

Honestly, this review is difficult to write because this book was sweeping and felt like a legend or fairy tale (minus the happy, all wrapped up ending). Fama doesn’t hesitate to pull at your emotions and take things where you thought she wouldn’t go.

I read Monstrous Beauty wanting a mermaid tale since I’ve not had a lot of luck finding a successful one. This book succeeded in pulling the mermaid entity into a very realistic and believable world. Though the story takes place on land more than in the ocean Fama was able to give her mermaids history, presence and a reality I’ve not read in another book. Also, there was a delightfully evil sea witch that was beautiful in her brutality.

Final Thoughts:
Some books are impossible to write a review that will adequately express the depth and emotion of the book. I felt that Monstrous Beauty was this type of book, to really grasp it you need to read the book.


  1. says

    I need to read this, like, immediately. A sweeping, not-super-happy fairy tale sounds amazing right now and I’ve head such good things about this book!

  2. says

    Kristen! This was one of my favorite books in 2012, so I’m so happy to see that you enjoyed it. I agree that Syrenka’s story was definitely stronger than Hester’s, but the story was so unusual and the writing so beautiful that I didn’t even care, hah.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

    • says

      Oh Wendy, it was so good. Heartbreaking and yet so lovely. Fama’s writing is truly impressive. I can’t wait to read more from her.

  3. says

    Amazing review Kristen. <3 I'm glad you mostly loved this book 😀 I did too. Sigh. But ack! It's been so long since I read it. I need to re-read it soon. <3 It was just awesome, wasn't it? Sigh. I need to read more from Elizabeth 🙂

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