Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: January 28th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Fairytale Retelling, Paranormal
Synopsis: (from the paperback)
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 to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the centuries-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 tries to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, should 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.
My First Thoughts:
Originally I bought the book because I had ordered Hodge’s newest book Crimson Bound, and wanted to read her earlier works while I was waiting for it to arrive. The cover looked amazing; it was definitely beautiful and eye catching. I loved how the spiral staircase was interlocked with red petals, making the design into a rose, which shows up all the time in Beauty and the Beast stories. In the past I haven’t read a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that I have liked, so when I saw that this version would be very different, with Beauty as an assassin, I was extremely excited to read Cruel Beauty.
Nyx Triskelion is the heroine of this story. Her fate was sealed when her father made a deal with the Gentle Lord, a demon who makes deals with mortals and rules over the world of Arcadia. Since birth, Nyx was trained in the Hermetic arts (think alchemy) to kill her future husband, the Gentle Lord, and free Arcadia from his evil tyranny. As she grew and trained, Nyx developed a deep hatred for her family. She hated her father for making this fool’s bargain and never truly showing her any sort of love. She hated her Aunt Telomache for teaching her the art of seduction and other kills they believed Nyx needed, and for sleeping with her father. And she hated her twin sister, Astraia, for being too naïve and sheltered, for receiving all the love from their father and aunt, and being not the one chosen to marry the Gentle Lord. But her devotion to family and country help her to turn her anger into a weapon that she will use against the Gentle Lord, because if it were not for him none of this would have happened!
Ignifex, or better known as the Gentle Lord, is the Lord of Bargains and rules over Arcadia in the ruined castle of the old kings. For nine hundred years, Ignifex has been commanding demons and striking deals with the mortals of Arcadia. With the beauty of Adonis, the only thing that reveals his demon nature is his cruelty and his red cat-like eyes. Nyx will be his ninth wife, and possibly his doom.
Then there is Shade. The shadow of the demon, Shade is the captive and save of Ignifex. By day, he is but a shadow that creeps across the walls of the house. By night, he is something more real. Shade is the first friend, and possible ally, to Nyx and he helps make her stay in the Gentle Lord’s home more bearable, and helps her in her plan to kill Ignifex.
Finally, Cruel Beauty is set in Romana-Graecia Arcadia, which has been ripped out of time from the world by the Gentle Lord. The people here live under a parchment sky, where the sun is painted and its light just a cheap imitation. The aristocrats follow the Greek Pantheon while the peasants believe in the hedge-gods, or the gods that their people believed in before being conquered many generations back.
Unfortunately, this book frustrated me to no end. I went in with such high hopes, because of all the raving that I have heard for this author and her first book, and I believe that I just set the bar too high. The story is nothing special.
I loved most of the story ideas: the use of Greek mythology, a setting out of time, a demon being the ‘Beast’, a house with a mind of its own, the Beauty being forced to marry the Beast and being trained as his killer, etc. However, all these ideas combined seemed good in theory but was mixed poorly in execution. While Ignifex is a cruel demon, which can be beast-like, he is drop-dead gorgeous with a crude sense of humor, but a gentleman nonetheless. And honestly, he wasn’t that much different from the main character, Nyx.
Nyx, another thing that drove me crazy. I could not, for the life of me, like this character consistently enough to make this story enjoyable. She is a hateful, spiteful woman who can’t make her own decisions without being completely influenced by someone else. I can see how this can be realistic, because the author made her father out to be a total tool, who never showed her any love and trained her to be a weapon to fix his own mistakes. But the constant switching back-and-forth between doing what she wants to do, like love a demon lord, and what someone else wants her to do, like kill said demon lord, gave me whiplash. In the end, her decision was her own, but it was several pages too late for me. Another thing that I hated about Nyx was how her opinions/feelings for the other characters changed almost at the drop of a hat. One minute she loves her twin sister, the next she hates Astraia and wants her to take her place; Nyx feels guilty later, but she keeps hating her sister at all the wrong times. The same goes for Ignifex, she attracted to him, she’s repulsed by him, she wants him, she wants to kill him even though she really loves him. The back-and-forth was just too much for me at times.
Then there was the love triangle that was never advertised on the back of the book. Yes, there’s a love triangle that was so important to the plot that it should have been in the synopsis because it changes the whole story! I’m okay with love triangles if they’re done right, but this had one side that was instant love and made no sense while the other was a slow burn kind of thing. To me, the love triangle read like it was added in during the final draft. Like the publisher said, “Hey, this story needs more drama so make this guy love Nyx too because everyone loves love triangles! Yay money!”
There were a few other things that drove me nuts. At times the sentences were way too long in the action sequences, which brought me out of the mood too much. Some of the characters’ personalities changed so suddenly without any sort of hints or explanations, which confused me. And by the end of the book, the original plot line was made moot after a big discovery, but the author decided to stick with that plot line anyways, which pissed me off to no end. The last hundred pages were the hardest to follow, and I had to reread them a few times to actually understand why things were happening as they were.
The book was sub-par, end of story. The main character was a strong heroine, who unfortunately has many unfavorable traits found in media’s idea of strong women. The love triangle frustrated me and most of the love did not make any logical sense. Time was wasted in certain points in the story that made it too long. There was way too much whiplash for me. And while the world that the story was set in was described beautifully, I believe that it wasn’t described well enough, meaning there were many holes in the mind’s picture. Though the mythology used was done well, the author didn’t spend too much time ‘educating’ her readers in the mythology that she was using. Instead she used enough information for the stuff to make sense to her readers, especially if they don’t have the same knowledge of it like I do. In the end, it isn’t my favorite book or retelling of Beauty in the Beast that I have read, but it is one of the better retellings, which is absolutely sad.
I’m giving this book a 2.5 just because I enjoyed the mythology used in the book and I liked most of the ideas used individually, just not altogether. This book could have gotten a better rating if the characters, especially the main character, were more likable and if the author didn’t have to resort to time travel to fix some pretty big plot holes.