Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fama, Elizabeth: Monstrous Beauty

Expected publication: September 4, 2012
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan)
YA Paranormal/Mythology (Mermaids), 304 pages

Acquired and read: From the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review; I stopped for a bit on this one, but after a bit of a nudge from the lovely Wendy Darling, I picked right back up where I left off and finished it within an hour. No lie.

Disclaimer: This is a pre-release ARC received from the publisher. As such, please check any quotes or information against the finished copy of the book.  

If you're a fellow book blogger - well, a reader in general - you probably adhere to the one-chapter rule. This can be considered a distant relation to the (now defunct in most social circles) five-second rule - you know, five seconds to eat a scrap of food off the floor before the germs descend? That might have been disproved as untrue - and if you value your stomach and your health, I advise that you abandon it - but for me, one chapter before aiming a book for the scrap heap or settling in for the night saves me valuable time, sleep and, for the most part, peace of mind.

I won't lie. Up until last night, I had no intention of finishing Monstrous Beauty. Ever. The first time I attempted to read it, I broke the one chapter rule (*gasps* What a rebel I am!*) and eagerly clicked forward to see what the rest of the book might hold.

My discovery? A scene of violent assault (though, thankfully, not completely described) that had me shutting my Kindle cover and vowing never to open it to that particular galley again.

On the lovely Wendy Darling's suggestion, however, I decided to give the galley a second chance yesterday, and made it all the way to the end - as I mentioned before, in an hour. Not much else to do when you're stuck in a hot, empty car waiting for a class to finish. Since I'm feeling lazy (and there's still seven hours left before I can break my fast for the day), I decided to compile the pros and cons of Monstrous Beauty into a list so you can decide for yourself.

What Worked

The mermaids.

Nothing like you've seen in YA before. Trust me on this one. I'm not sure how much more I can say without spoiling, but they are still part-girl, part-fish, but they're much more...wild and raw than Ariel ever could be.
(Down side: Even Ariel invested in that shell bikini.)

The family history.

I really liked the way that the author brought the past into the present, and made the research and bloodline tracing and interviewing really believable.

The haunts.

Yes, that's right, ladies and gentlemen. You get mermaids and some good old fashioned ghosts for your money. A two-for-one deal you can only find in the wonderful world of YA literature.

The writing style.   

Didn't I mention this before? Anyway, the writing style. This is the main reason I carried through with Monstrous Beauty.

What Didn't  
(a.k.a. my Warnings a little earlier than usual, because as I said before, I'm lazy today)

The violence.

The aforementioned assault, a really freaky sea queen (see my note about Ursula in the conclusion), a murder-suicide mystery and a family curse that, despite a lack of distinct violence, might be a little sensitive if you're really attached to your mommy. 

The language.

I know I'm probably wearing this into the ground for people who don't care, but every. Other. Page. I was flinching away from a language bomb. It might not worry you, but it's really a sore spot for me. 

The ending.

Most of the loose threads are woven up - I mean, most of the storyline gets illuminated pretty quickly thanks to the author's approach to melding the past and future - but there were still some questions about the family history and the mermaids that I would have liked to find out just for the sake of it. It's not a big issue, but I just felt a little...unfinished.

The cover.

I mean, it's better than the first version, but still...I was too antsy to post it, so you'll have to look it up for yourself.

Conclusion = ?

I think you'll have to come up with that one yourself. Personally, I did like the unique touch the author gave mermaids - a slight hint of the (original, and quite dark in itself) Little Mermaid tale, a dash of Spirited Away - or so it felt like to me, and the rich culture of the Eastern coast, which being a resident myself I already can appreciate.
And the sea. You can practically smell it coming off the pages. Sometimes, I think I was an ocean-dweller in another life. Something with sparkly, iridescent fins. And a habit of rummaging through sunken ships.

Ultimately, I don't think I can give this book a complete "read it" or "don't read it". I'm not usually one for dark material - though, as I said before, I like the sinister edge to these mermaids - and I'm not in the mood for something with lots of violence and despair. (Actually, I can't think of a time when I do like violence and despair.)

If you want to read Monstrous Beauty, read it to appreciate the writing style, and be prepared to skip forward if the gore and woe-is-me-another-death scenes are freaking you out. This is not The Little Mermaid. No song-and-dance routines, no Prince Eric and no friendly fish companion (though there is a really bizarro-Gothic version of Ursula that should have your knees shaking).

For me, I'd definitely say that I like it, but with reservations. Or, I'd like it more if I didn't have to have those reservations. Because, you know, I'm cool and ambiguous like that.

fantasy,fishtails,folk tales,folktales,mermaids,mythical creatures,mythological creatures,people,stories


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