From the publisher:
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom—all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him.
Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.
But Ignifex is not 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. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?
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.
As far as retellings of Beauty and the Beast go, Cruel Beauty flourishes. (Perhaps unfairly, I have only A Court of Thorns and Roses with which to compare it, but in any case Hodge emerges victorious.) The traditional fairy tale is recast here in an entirely unique fantastical world, and yet somehow Hodge has indited it gracefully, seamlessly entwining Greek mythology with elements of that classic narrative we all know so well. Although the world building is sometimes halfhearted and feeble, the world itself remains bewitching. Gothic and sumptuous, it is the fairy tale setting we all may have known as children had Walt Disney given way to more Grecian Brothers Grimm.
A belligerent revolutionary, Nyx is a colourfully authentic breath of fresh air in the world of YA. Like Ignifex, I like a girl with a little iniquity in her heart– Mary Sues can be so cloyingly tedious, can they not? Protagonists who are not everlastingly preoccupied with doing right until blue in the face always provide a much-needed interlude from the pervasive stodginess. Nyx, ever the individualist, is the proprietor of soul so fractured that it has effectively split down the middle; every facet of her nature, therefore, becomes antithetical to another. She is loving yet resentful, responsible yet reckless, noble yet a yellow-faced coward when it matters the most. This explicitly is why one trusts her from the very first page: she is flawed, and she knows it.
Regrettably, one of these very flaws involves spray tan love to a distressingly aggravating extreme. Shockingly, this egregious romance implicates not only one but two love interests, thereby forging a brand-new tribute to that immemorial YA custom: the love triangle. You may be asking yourself, and rightfully so, what exactly our warrior protagonist is doing in neglecting her righteous duties by using her exceedingly limited time to fall in love with two major heartthrobs. After all, we readers signed up to discover the tale of a hero, not a lovesick idealist. (Just as Nyx signed up to screw her courage to the sticking place and stab some demons– not lay down her wits and virgin knives to swan off into the sunset with her immortal lover(s) at the drop of a well-placed hat.) Alas, you can’t always get what you want (but if you try sometime, you’ll find that Hodge may give you exactly what you need.)
The writing is standard. Although not particularly horrendous by any means, it’s no natural wonder of the world either– although it does have its own poetic moments, after a fashion. As for the plot, I’m still unsure if Cruel Beauty‘s ending is evidence of an elaborate loophole in the clause of the plot itself totally beyond the scope of my understanding, or merely an unimaginative deus ex machina meant to stun us and shut us up. I suppose we’ll never truly know. Regardless, it’s fast-paced, highly gripping, and packs one helluva twist.
A big thanks goes to Rosamund Hodge for emerging onto the literary scene to give our dearest Tale as Old as Time a brand-new facelift. Belle always was one of my favourite Disney princesses, and Nyx just might live up to her reputation. Recommended to fans of revamped French fairy tales and walking paradoxes. 3.3/5 stars.
I’ll keep you posted,