Title: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published: January 28th, 2014 by Balzer and Bray
Source: ARC from ALA
Genre: Fantasy | Paranormal | Romance
Age group: Young adult
Grade rate: C+
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny. Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him. With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she's ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people. But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle-a shifting maze of magical rooms-enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex's secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.
Well, that was not what I expected. Cruel Beauty was pitched at a Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast and that it was not. Instead, the book is a mix of a Greek mythology fantasy, romance, and magic.
I love Beauty and the Beast and retellings based on the story and thus I was eager to read this book. Cruel Beauty was confusing, which is not something I like to feel when reading. At first, the world that was introduced to is very strange. It is based on Hermetic principles – four elements that create or destroy everything – that are studied by the people of the island of Arcadia. It is believed that the island has been isolated from the rest of the world by magic created by the Gentle Lord. Nyx, our protagonist, was raised to destroy the Gentle Lord upon marriage (more about that later), and trained on Hermetic principles and other useful things, since birth. Are you with me so far?
Let me try to explain something really quickly: the book can be divided in two parts that I will call Before and After. When Nyx marries the Gentle Lord, which is called Ignifex, is when my confusion starts. What ensues next is a series of encounters with the very handsome demon and his shadow. Nyx spends a lot of time searching the castle for clues and trying to steal keys to said rooms from Ignifex. At the end the ‘Before’ part Nyx does the unthinkable, bound by a promise that she made to her sister. I didn’t like this ending at all. I think it was precipitous and disjointed.
Also, I didn’t particularly liked Nyx. Before she was cruel, hateful, and insecure. She did have some redeeming qualities though, she was smart, fearless, and learned to love. On the other hand, Ignifex was more straightforward. He didn’t remember how he ended up the way he did, but he was unapologetically good and bad at the same time and more importantly, he was happy that way. I like them both better when they were together.
After the ‘first ending’ (confused yet?), we get to meet the same characters, but they are different. Not only is the world itself altered, but the story takes a different turn. This second part (the After) is much shorter, the last three chapters, and that might be why I was taken aback. This Nyx is easier to like and much braver. Ignifex is weaker and we don’t get to spend any time with him to even get to know him.
Astraia is Nyx’s twin sister and it seems like the only purpose for her being in the story is for Nyx to have someone to hate. Nyx’s father and aunt were horrible as well (at least Before) and expected Nyx to figure out how to defeat the Gentle Lord and fix everything, even though it was an impossible task. These are very minor characters because
The setting is weird. Most of the story takes place while Nyx is inside the castle. True to the B&B story, it is enchanted and changes all the time. Another similarity is the mirror that Nyx uses to look to the outside. The world building is good and heavily based on Green mythology. The writing is straightforward and easy to read.
Overall, I enjoyed Cruel Beauty, but unfortunately I didn’t love it. I’ll still read the next book settled in this universe and hope that they improve with time.
Some quotes for you:
“If you start wondering how this house works, you'll likely go mad. That could be amusing, I suppose. Especially if it's the kind of madness that causes you to run naked through the hallways. Do feel free to indulge in that anytime.”
“You deserve all that and more. It made me happy to see you suffer. I would do it all over again if I could." I realized I was shaking as the words tumbled out of me. "I would do it again and again. Every night I would torment you and laugh. Do you understand? You are never safe with me." I drew a shuddering breath, trying to will away the sting of tears.
He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. "That's what makes you my favorite." He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. "Every wicked bit of you.”
“Why is he scared of the dark?"
I meant the words for a joke, but Shade nodded seriously. "Like all monsters. Because it reminds him of what he truly is".”
About the cover: It’s gorgeous, and one of the things that had me reading the book in the first place. The roses have a very deep meaning in the Beauty and the Beast story, but not so here. Also, the spiral stairs emphasize the confusion of the ever-changing castle.