Author: Rosamund Hodge
Release: January 28th 2014
Genre: Mythology, Retelling, Romance, YA
Companion novels: Gilded Ashes, Crimson Bound
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.
Oh, boy. This is a very interesting book, for a lot of reasons, and I think it is good. I liked it. However, it was also kind of a mess, it's like Hodge just threw in whatever she liked, stirred it three times clockwise and one time counter-clockwise, chanted some kind of spell and then danced around the cauldron. And that's how Cruel Beauty was made.
Honestly, though, I really loved the world-building. Despite being a retelling, it still managed to be wholly original and creative like I've seldom come across, it's amazing how nicely Hodge was able to toss some Greek mythology in there, some peasant tales (I'd have to check if she made them up herself or got them somewhere other, but if she did make them up — I'd be damn impressed), some Roman history and some demonology. On top of that, it's still a simple retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and a really, really great one at that, since she included basically almost all of the important elements, as well as included some of her own. I mean, I'm not quite steady on the facts here, but at least I think she got it all down correctly. Especially the part about the Beast — or in this case, the Demon Lord — setting Belle, or Nyx, free and her coming back on her own accord. That was the part I loved most.
Furthermore, while I can't say I ever got around to love her characters, I still have to admit that they felt very real, were very much alive and their struggles felt real. Particularly Nyx stood out to me, because she's doubting her goodness and kindness, thinking herself wicked and impious for it, really having a problem with her overall attitude towards everything. I felt that her hatred for her privileged sister was appropriate, I seriously wouldn't have expected any less and would have frowned deeply had Hodge made Nyx love her sister anyways, and that's ultimately what made me like her as much as I did. I kind of sympathized with and related to her, because, as I've said once or twice before, I'm always having trouble with being a good person myself, so Nyx having her issues with it as well caught me in a trap I couldn't get out of.
Then we have Ignifex, whom I expected to be dull and boring, to be quite honest, but I'm surprised to say that I also liked him after a while. I'm not sure you could say he's well rounded or anything, but I kind of liked his personality, how he's this Demon Lord basically damning people to horrible fates, but he's so nonchalant about it, brushing it off as their own fault. Say I'm twisted in a way, but I understood why he'd think that way, it made sense. And sometimes, I even thought Nyx reprimanding him for it, for what he has to do, was silly.
Anyways, both of these points lead me to the next, which would be the romance, which predictably takes up a good portion of the book. Of course, I knew that going in, and I have to say, it wasn't as bad as I had thought it would be. A lot of reviews have talked about how the romance was one of the worst things about the book, which I'll have to agree on, but especially towards the end, I really got around to it and I liked Ignifex and Nyx's dynamics and interactions. However, and here comes the dealbreaker, there's also this other guy, sort of, that Nyx is creeping around with in the beginning, allying up with and stealing kisses in the dark with, dreaming herself in love with him etc pp, and it grinded on my nerves. A lot. It was pretentious, ridiculous and naive, and I did not approve at all. Not even because I wanted her to be with Ignifex or anything, at that point I wasn't even such a big fan of them, but it was this very bad case of insta-love that gave me all the wrong vibes. And then we have her constant lusting after Ignifex at the same time, she's literally thinking about Ignifex's kisses right after kissing the other guy, and it made me really mad. This is the kind of behavior that crosses a line with me, I'm okay with a character jumping around from one bed to the next, but not if she's talking about big feelings like love and such at the very same time. No.
Fortunately, this got better later on as the other guy faded more into the background and Nyx focuses on her actual husband, falling in love with him after a while and blah, we all know how it ends. Or do we? I was really shocked at how Hodge did the ending, although I'm not sure yet whether I like it. I definitely loved the ending climax, because it left me hanging until the very last page, not knowing how this is going to end after all, and it was full of action and suspense, quite simply put: it was great. But then there's the epic finale and the last, I don't know, 20 pages are comparable with an epilogue about them getting their happy ending and blah. It's not even an ending I'm frowning upon because it seemed like they got off easy, which I guess they both did and didn't at the same time, but ... it was ... huh. Not sure how to describe it. You should just have to experience it for yourself.
So, the overall verdict is, I like the book. It has a very original and intriguing world going for it with somewhat nice characters, an interesting plot and ... well, decent romance for the second half of the book, at least. I'm actually pleasantly surprised, because to be honest I was kinda expecting it to be worse than this. It's not, and while at times I did have to take some breaks because I was tired of reading Cruel Beauty, I still liked it. If you're thinking about reading this novel, then you have the go-ahead from me. You probably won't regret it, although if you're looking for your next ultimate favorite book, I'm not sure if this is going to be it. Despite that, it's still worth the time, I'd say.