Friday, January 10, 2014

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty
by Rosamund Hodge
Read: December 28, 2013 - January 1, 2014
Published: January 28, 2014 by Balzer & Bray
Category: Fairy Tale Retelling, Greek influences, YA

Find: Goodreads | Amazon

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.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the Gentle Lord, the evil ruler of her kingdom of Arcadia, all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him. When Nyx's wedding day comes and she is suddenly married to and trapped in Ignifex's beguiling house, she discovers that nothing, including her husband, is what she expected (adapted from Goodreads). 

What I love best about this book, is how the author plays with the tale of Beauty and the Beast, especially in the complexity of the main characters. There is much less of a focus on Ignifex's (Beast's) physical appearance, and more on the evil and darkness that surrounds his character. Whether or not the perceptions about him are true, no one would presume to call Ignifex a Good Guy. Nyx is also not simply an innocent Beauty. She has been trained her whole life to sacrifice herself for her people by killing the monstrous Beast. She is driven, starved of love, and recognizes the darkness that lives her own heart. Especially her anger and hatred at her family for forcing her into this role. 

The setting of Cruel Beauty is also fascinating. Based on Greek mythology, this world is in many ways a creation all its own. The island of Arcadia resides within what, from the inside, looks like a parchment paper dome, protected from the outside world but also separate from it. No one knows exactly what happened 900 years ago when the Sundering began, but Nyx's father believes that she can break it when she destroys the Gentle Lord. Of course as is the case in all stories, nothing is as simple as it seems, and that's when the wonder of this book unfolds. 

There are very clear bones from the Beauty and the Beast plot within Cruel Beauty, but this is also very much an original tale. In the second half of the book, the plot especially takes off. It is surprising, twisty, strange and exciting. A lot happens near the very end that had my head spinning - in a good way - though I do wish that a few elements had been explained a little better. I also very much like the strength and complexities in Nyx's relationship with her sister, and the ways that directs some of the action in the book. 

My biggest struggle when reading Cruel Beauty was the presentation of the character of Shade, the only other being that Beauty encounters when she is inside Ignifex's house. I'm going to talk a lot about this because it really bugged me. I recognize Shade's importance but I didn't like the way he was portrayed or how his relationship with Nyx progressed. Of course, my love triangle radar started beeping right away, but it wasn't completely that which bothered me. I didn't like Nyx's near instant trust of Shade, the way she supposed a lot of things about him, which he wasn't able to confirm or deny, and the way Nyx's interactions with him shifted focus away from what was far more interesting to me - the mythology, her task and Ignifex. I was suspicious of Shade from the beginning, which made Nyx's immediate assumptions and trust in him tough for me to understand. 

If you dislike love triangles as much as I do, I have a feeling that his character will bug you as well. If triangles don't bother you so much, I doubt it will be a problem for you. The good news is that in the second half of the book, the Shade situation becomes a non-issue. Nyx's romance with Ignifex develops slowly and is lovely to watch, compared to that, her relationship with Shade was jarring. 

Even taking into account what I said in the last two paragraphs about Shade, Cruel Beauty is an edgy, imaginative and thoughtful retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I definitely recommend it. 

Love Triangle Factor: Mild - Medium depending on your perspective
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone


  1. Oh, I had no idea that this was so cpmplex. I LOVE the darkness you described that surrounds both of the MCs. "my love triangle radar started beeping"--HAHAHAHA. LOL. You funny little thing, Lauren :D Sometimes, I think it was on my Icons review comments that someone said, I agree that the other guy in the love triangle seems to be put there just for the sake of us rooting even more fot he original guy--like I've heard happened in the Delirium trilogy and in many others like the Starcrossed trilogy by Josie Angelini for instance. Ughhh.. the love triangle factor (even if mild) really put doubts in my mind, but I'll try to look pass that. I LOVE LOVE LOVE slow-burns. Also, don't you think there are LOTS of B&tB retellings lately? Heh. I'm glad you enjoyed it and what with all the rave reviews, I'm looking forward to reading this myself:)

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, despite that strange pseudo-love triangle with Shade. I feel like Hodge really broke out of the typical B&tB shell with this book, though, and I loved the utterly unique aspects of this one, particularly Nyx's character. Fantastic review, as always Lauren! :)

  3. We talked a little bit about this one already Lauren, but as always, reading your thoughts is a pleasure. I agree completely - this entire story was way more complex that I thought it would be going in, and I loved the darkness you mentioned. Both with Ignifex and Nyx as well. I'm with you on Shade, I didn't like the almost-triangle there even though it all made sense in the end, but that was a really small issue for me overall and I just adored this book. I'm definitely looking forward to whatever Rosamund writes next!

  4. I'm looking forward to reading this one! I have a HUGE soft spot for Beauty and the Beast, so I was really excited when I first heard of it. It sounds twisty and imaginative and like a pretty awesome story -- so I can't wait to read it for myself.

  5. Yeah, I can see getting irritated with the Shade character but the rest of your review made me want to read this story NOW. Love the combo of Beauty and the Beast and Greek mythology. Nice.

  6. Hmm. I think in the context that you're explaining here the potential love triangle won't really bother me. What I really hate about love triangles is when they form one of the central focuses of the book (and many times that's more of a common occurrence in contemporaries, I think). Even if there are hints of growing attractions, as long as this Shade character is important to the story and moves along the plot and all, I can probably be okay with it all.
    Still, though, I'm disappointed that that character ruined the story a little bit for you. It sucks when that happens! Despite your issues there, though, it does sound as though you enjoyed this story overall. I cannot wait to read it and see where my enjoyment level falls!

  7. I just started Cruel Beauty and I've only heard good things about it. I don't know how I feel about the potential love triangle but I'll guess Ill figure it out when I read it. Maybe Cruel Beauty will help me get out of my reading funk.

  8. I loved Nyx's relationship with her sister so much, especially when she realizes who her sister actually is, such a cool development :D. I kind of wish there was more in this world since the idea of the magic and the parchment sky was so cool, but that's just an awesome book for ya, haha

  9. I WANT. I love (REALLY love) the fact that there's complexity for the characters and that you said Beast's darkness is more of a focal point than his appearance. However, I'm with you on instant trust. I personally consider it almost as bad as instant love because instant trust makes me groan and immediately feeling the opposite.

  10. I am looking forward to reading this book so much--Kate snagged the review for us so I probably wont' get to it for a bit, but I'm glad to see you liked it overall. I don't always mind love triangles if they're done well, so I will have to compare notes with you down the road when I get a chance to read it!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  11. I said basically the same thing in my review concerning Shade...I was immediately suspicious of him and all of Nyx's assumptions regarding him bothered me to no end. The "love triangle" was actually a non-issue for me because of it. This retelling was so vastly different from what I was expecting, but even so, I kind of absolutely loved it. Thanks for convincing me of its merits beforehand. :)

  12. I think I know about this love triangle that really sort of isn't and I can remember how I know this. Knowing this the triangle probably wouldn't bug me. I think. I loved the story of Beauty and the Beast and I've heard good and bad things about this story, but your review makes me want to pick it up. Lovely review, Lauren! :)

  13. I really loved that even though Cruel Beauty is based to other stories it felt so unique and fresh. Shade really bugged me too! I kind of hated the romance overall.


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