This cover captured my heart long before its heroine Kymera did. But now that I’ve read her tale, Kymera’s story is one that will stay with me for a long time. In an overall strong book the character of Kymera is perhaps the strongest element and I have no doubt that other readers will root, worry, and cry for her as I did. Imagine if Dr. Frankenstein created a girl with cat eyes, a snake’s tail, and the wings of a raven and taught her to be a superhero and you have the very basic premise of Monstrous.
We meet Kymera when she first awakes and we are told- as she is- that she died but has been brought back to life with a few adjustments (including a tail, wings, and claws) by an ostracized scientist grieving the loss of his wife (her mother) and daughter (Kymera, though she has no memories from her life before). Father teaches Kym about the kingdom of Bryre, which is being tormented by an evil wizard. The girls of Bryre are falling sick and Kym sneaks into the prison where they are kept and steals them one at a time, bringing them back to her cottage in the woods before they are sent to safety in neighbouring kingdom Belladoma. At first Kym is happy to do as her father bids, never speaking to anyone, never straying from the route, trusting him implicitly. But for each day that she is alive, she starts to become curious and craves friendship, knowledge, justice and reassurance. When she befriends Ren, a boy who works as a messenger for the King, and her memories start to come back, Kym starts to question the things she has been taught.
This is an engrossing fairytale with an unusual and empathetic heroine. MarcyKate Connolly has stitched elements from various fairytales and horror stories into a dark but lovely tale. Great fantasy addresses the bigger questions in life but does so without feeling pedantic. In Monstrous the stakes are always high. There is much to discuss here about growing up, power, responsibility, and sacrifice. Though the tone is gentle, Connolly does not try to hide her narrator’s blood lust or taste for vengeance, nor the villagers readiness to burn a stranger at the stake. Gambles are taken-sometimes with lives- and lost. The blood and consequences create a capital F Fairytale and also a classic tragedy in the Greek sense.
The language is vivid and it is easy to imagine Kymera and her world, which is both familiar and new. The cover illustration is beyond perfect and though this is definitely a Bookish Book I couldn’t help but picture the incredible work a studio like Ghibli could do with an animated version. I would love to see how they bring the Rock Dragon, the dungeons of Belladoma, and most importantly, Kymera herself- to life. A tween may delve into this book and not come out for days but I think it could also be read-aloud to younger children, provided they aren’t easily upset by injustice, betrayal, and death. Adult readers may see the twists before they are revealed, but young readers or those less familiar with fairytale tropes will likely be taken by surprise as truths are discovered.
I would love to talk about the ending, and how brave Connolly is in her decisions- which are heartbreaking yet felt necessary- but I do not want to spoil the joy of reading this novel, which was a transportive experience. Find me on twitter @vikkivansickle and we can gush there. Fans of Eon, The Peculiar, The Glass Sentence, and Talon will definitely embrace the strange and lovely Kymera.
Monstrous is available now in hard cover from Harper Collins.