My latest reading took me into Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama, a dark and very unique re-telling of The Little Mermaid.

Summary on the back: 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 adored this book. It had everything I've been craving from a fairytale re-telling - a much more adult, and richly detailed re-imaging of the story that created a fascinating new plot while still retaining enough to be recognizable. The fusion of tragic horror and poignant love story was balanced perfectly, and while the story crammed in a dizzying amount of elements, it never felt over-stuffed. The book hit so many of my tropes too - beautiful descriptions, historical fantasy, star-crossed lovers, and a bittersweet ending. While I was much more invested in Syrenka's story - mostly because I didn't care for Hester as much as a character - I did enjoy how well the two halves fit together. So many split time period stories have an uncomfortable feel during each break, but the flow of the style and the way the bits of each story complimented what was happening in the other time period worked so much better than usual. The characters in the 1800s time period were all intriguing - even the villains - and while the modern characters did pale a bit in comparison - Hester often comes across as quite selfish but realistically human, and Peter, while perfectly likeable, lacks Ezra's appeal - they did grow on me as the plot went on.

And the mermaids! I could gush about them forever! I loved the savage, other-worldliness of them, from Syrenka's sharp fins to the creepy Sea Witch. Everything about them was creative and imaginative and very spooky.

The final twists were heart-breaking but very unexpected, and - without giving too much away - I was very pleased that the explanation for the curse wasn't what I'd assumed, but something very touching and moving instead. On another note it was also a refreshing change to have so many sensibly named characters! I love the old and beautiful names the humans had, and the Russian flavor of Syrenka's name.

Overall, Monstrous Beauty was an absolute delight, a skillfully written page-turner with a lovely, melancholy feel.
feeling: sore
calliope tune: "Sixteen Tons"-Tennessee Ernie Ford