Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.
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.
Hardcover 352 pages
Three and a half stars: A gorgeously written, dark and inventive retelling.
Nyx's face aches as she struggles to maintain her fake smile. Her maids primp and preen her into her gorgeous, red wedding dress. At last, her wedding day has arrived. Nyx, though, isn't your average, shy, ebullient bride. Today she marries a monster. Nyx has known since she was nine years old that when she reached seventeen, she would be sacrificed to the Gentle Lord as her father's payment for a wish made on behalf of her now dead mother. The Gentle Lord lives in the ruined castle that overlooks her village. He is a demon who grants wishes to those who ask but there is always a cruel catch. Nyx knows that she has one chance to defeat the Demon Lord and save her family and town or die trying. What she doesn't count on is discovering the startling truth. Will Nyx destroy the Gentle Lord and save everyone?
What I Liked:
- Hodge knocks it out of the park with this stunning debut. Cruel Beauty is a dark, ingenious and creative reworking of Beauty and the Beast. This is a complex tale that interweaves greek mythology and exciting new ideas. A breath of fresh air into a beloved classic. If you are a fan of retellings, give this one a try. It is incredibly different and complex.
- I was impressed with the writing. It is gorgeous, detailed, sophisticated and well done. Ms. Hodge proves with her debut that she has what it takes. I am sure that there will be many more books from her to come.
- I liked that the characters moved beyond expectations. I think most of us are familiar with the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, so going into this you have certain expectations. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the characters moved beyond my preconceived notions. Nyx, the beauty, is a girl who has hatred and resentment in her heart. She was brought up to be a sacrifice and assassin. Her father picked to die her instead of her twin. Her life has been nothing but lessons and fear. Worse, her own father reserves all of his affection for her sister. Nyx is angry and hurt and hateful when she enters the castle. Ignifex, the beast, also has darkness and cruelty in his soul, and he is unapologetic about it. I liked that I was expecting a demure and sweet faced girl, and a cruel Beast who is actually just misunderstood, and I ended getting something completely different. Even at the end, there are no apologies and the two still maintain some darkness in their souls, which of course is true to life. As much as we try and hide it, we all have a bit of hatred and darkness inside of us.
- The romance is complicated and completely different than I expected. There is a bit of a love triangle, which sounds strange, but once you learn the truth it works. I liked that the romance didn't follow the traditional tale and that it was complex and difficult.
- I appreciated that interworking of mythology and lore to enhance the story. I thought the added Greek mythology was clever and that it moved the story to another level.
- The entire book is intelligent and complex. The plot is a bit difficult at times to follow, and I was confused here and there, but thankfully, everything comes together at the end and makes sense. I truly appreciated that this book made me think. The world building is detailed, complicated and impressive once you grasp it. This is not your fluffy fairy tale for sure!
- I loved that everything reaches a full conclusion, no cliffhangers or unanswered questions. This appears to be a stand alone, and I am happy that I got a full story in one book.
And The Not So Much:
- I struggled with the pacing in this one. At times it moves fast and it left my head spinning as I tried to make sense of everything, while at other times it dragged. I thought there was too much time spent exploring the house. It got a little boring watching Nyx go through room after room, especially when most of them had no bearing on the story. The ending moved very quickly in comparison to the middle section. I would have preferred less wasted time with the exploration and more on the ending. I would have loved to know a bit more about Nyx's new life at the end.
- I think that marketing this as a Beauty and the Beast retelling hurts the book. It is an extremely loose refashioning of the fairy tale. While there is definitely a beauty and a supposed beast, that is about the only similarity. Everything else is fresh and original. I personally didn't feel like Ignifex was as much of a beast as Nyx's father. Furthermore, calling this a retelling allows for a bit of predictability. The reader doesn't develop an aversion for Ignifex early on because they are expecting him to do a beastly transformation. I would have enjoyed this better if I wasn't drawing comparisons in my head and if I had been more surprised. If you are looking for a story that stays true to the original you will likely be disappointed, but if you are wanting something creative and innovative you will be pleased. I personally think it is best to go into this without the preconceived notions.
- The romance is a bit forced and strange. It moves too quickly in the beginning and there is a strange love triangle. Lust also comes into play and it was never apparent as to whether Nyx's lustful feelings were her own, or whether they were born of a demonic influence. It does settle out and move into something a bit more believable. Definitely don't expect sweet and romantic with this one.
- I had a hard time liking any of the characters. Nyx is full of anger and hatred, granted it is justified, but it makes her less likable. She is constantly battling with her inner turmoil which causes her to be indecisive, often to the point of being irritating. Her aunt plays the part of the wicked stepmother. She is cruel and conniving and seeks only the affection of Nyx's father. Nyx's sister, Astria, is a conundrum. At first, she appears to be naive, shallow and selfish, but then there is more to her. I struggled a bit with her, and I never felt like I had a true grasp on her character, especially at the end. The father is the despicable villain, and he is the real beast. I was disgusted from beginning to end with the way her treated Nyx. There is nothing redeeming about him. Believe it or not, I actually ended up liking Ignifex the best of all mostly because in the beginning he is a demon, he does what he needs to do and he makes no false pretenses about his behavior. He speaks the truth and I liked that. The rest of them tended to grate on my nerves.
Cruel Beauty is an incredibly imaginative and beautiful albeit dark refashioning of Beauty and the Beast. This is a loose retelling of the well loved classic. It is best to set aside expectations before going in and allow the story to take on its own life. The writing is detailed and lovely, the story creative and original. An impressive debut. Pick this up if you are looking for a complex and dark story, but don't expect it to play out like the original.
"If you desired someone, if he comforted you, if you thought he might leech the poison out of your heart, was that love? Or only desperation?"
"The philosopher said that the virtuous man, tortured to death on spikes, is more fortunate than the wicked man, living in a palace."
"There's no wisdom in the world that will stop humans from trying to snatch what they want."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.