Happy book birthday to Elizabeth Fama! Her latest, Monstrous Beauty, hits shelves today.
The folks in Plymouth know that something lurks beneath the waters at their shore. Local legends talk of mermaids who lure fisherman to their deaths. Ezra Doyle is a studious young man with a passion for marine biology. His interest in local stories and mythology has led to his study of the ocean environment itself and his fortuitous introduction to Syrenka. As he learns more about her life and her kind, Ezra and Syrenka begin to fall desperately in love. But the only way they can be together is for Syrenka to become human, a solution that comes with tragic consequences.
For as long as Hester Goodwin can recall, she has been fascinated by the history of her family and her town. Having decided never to fall in love or have children, she has devoted most of her time to her job at Plimouth Plantation. Sadly, her decision regarding love comes not from a lack of interest, but from the knowledge that children would mean almost certain death: her family line is filled with tragedy as mother after mother has passed after giving birth to their daughters. Sure the same fate awaits her, she has resolved never to let it come to that. But when Hester meets the stranger on the beach, she finds herself drawn to him in a way she's never experienced. Upon hearing her story, the stranger suggests that Hester's family may be cursed and that if she can unravel the story, maybe Hester can break the curse once and for all.
Monstrous Beauty is a wonderful read! The story alternates between 1872, Syrenka and Ezra's time, and Hester's present-day story. The mix of historic and modern makes for an excellent and intriguing tale and though the reader knows Syrenka and Hester are connected, much of Hester's story still comes as a surprise with unexpected elements around every corner.
Fama's use of history and mythology are just one of my favorite aspects of the story -- I loved the characters and the overall plot as well, but her use of mermaid lore was the real standout for me. Having read Zoraida Cordova's The Vicious Deep earlier this year, I was interested to see how Fama's mermaids would differ. While I expected that each author would have dealt with their subjects in much different ways, I can now happily report that this is in fact the case. Both are excellent reads featuring mermaids but that's where the similarities end. Where Cordova's book is a very modern sort of adventure story, Monstrous Beauty has a very classic fairy tale feel to it.
Fama also authored a short companion story, "Men Who Wish to Drown," you can read here. This one is a great prelude to whet your appetite or a nice follow up/extra after reading Monstrous Beauty.