Series: Cruel Beauty Universe #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on January 28th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
Cruel Beauty was such a pleasant surprise. I read A Court of Thorns and Roses a while ago and
hated did not enjoy it. I thought it was a sorry excuse for a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Then, many people started recommending this book to me and although the ratings weren’t as high as for the books I usually read, I decided to it pick up. I went into it knowing nothing in terms of plot and came out having my faith in BatB retellings restored.
The concept for Cruel Beauty is a really intriguing and unique one, but I was very worried it wouldn’t work. A fairy tale retelling with Greek mythology? Sounds like a great idea but the execution will probably be very lacking, I thought to myself. But I was wrong. Somehow Rosamund Hodge makes it work. She made the world feel real and organic, even though there wasn’t a lot of world-building. The weaving of her own invented mythology into actual mythology resulted in a strange blend of stories that somehow work together harmonically. I’m still slightly awestruck by this fact.
Nyx has always known her destiny: When she is seventeen she will have to marry the Gentle Lord, the Demon King, because of a bargain her father struck with him before she was born. But Nyx isn’t just destined to be the demon lord’s wife, she is also tasked by her father to kill him and free all of Arcadia and its people from the demon’s evil influence.
Her entire life Nyx has never felt good enough because she is the daughter her father loves less. Astraia, Nyx’s twin sister, has lived her life being cuddled and protected by their father and aunt while Nyx had to study and prepare herself for the daunting duty ahead of her. She is a weapon, a sacrifice and believes her father sees her as nothing more.
“You were sent here to die. You were the one that was not needed, was not wanted, and they sent you here because they knew you would never come back.”
Nyx has tried to make peace with this. To accept it as her fate. She tried to conceal and swallow down her jealousy, to be kind and to love her sister and family. But of course, it’s not that easy. I absolutely loved Nyx. She is a wonderful character, so flawed and realistic and honest with herself above all.
“But you know what you are, and what you deserve. You lie to me but not to yourself. That’s why I love you.”
Nyx is strong, determined and witty but she is also angry and bitter. There is darkness in her heart. She definitely trod in the grey areas; at times she was kind, at others cruel. She did many questionable things, wasn’t always likeable, and yet I felt for her. She hurt the people she loved and hated herself for it. I often find that many YA authors shy away from really depicting jealousy in its entirety, even though it is such an important topic to look at when you’re writing for a teen audience. Rosamund Hodge, however, did this brilliantly. Nyx is an anti-heroine reminiscent of Adelina from The Young Elites and I loved her.
Then there Ignifex, the demon lord who terrorizes Arcadia. He kills people through his bargains. He is not innocent. He is indeed a beast. But naturally, things aren’t always as simple as they seem. I especially loved Ignifex’s sense of humor and I found myself smiling at his jokes.
“If you start wondering how this house works, you’ll likely go mad. That could be amusing, I suppose. Especially if it’s the kind of madness that causes you to run naked through the hallways. Do feel free to indulge in that anytime.”
I also really appreciated how complex all of the side characters were. There is no black and white in this story. I found myself hating Nyx’s family and yet they seemed so real; they weren’t evil, just selfish and condescending. And the sisterly relationship in this novel? Simply perfect.
The romance I was bit iffy on. On the one hand, I thought the two were perfect for one another and a real power couple. Nyx does not play by Ignifex’s rules. She defies him, tests him. Their affection grows slowly. What starts out as hatred changes and becomes something else. There is mutual understanding between them. They see each other for what they are, not what they try to be.
“I love you,” he said. “I love you more than any other creature, because you are cruel, and kind, and alive.”
On the other hand, I wasn’t fully invested in their relationships and parts felt a bit out of the blue. Also, there was a sort of love triangle going on (which was super weird and I didn’t like) but it was definitely different from your average love triangle.
Plot & Setting:
Cruel Beauty is a very atmospheric novel. There isn’t a lot of world-building. Don’t expect complex politics or an elaborate magic system. The book works with the mystery, the unexplained; it’s dark and creepy and at times it doesn’t make sense but that is part of its appeal. It’s a novel full imagination and nightmarish elements.
The plot was surprisingly intricate. There are so many different threads that at times it feels like the narrative isn’t completely cohesive which caused me to be slightly confused several times. However, the curses, bargains and background stories were well done and in its entirety the novel comes together beautifully.
At times I did feel like the pacing was off: the author would take a long time to explain something seemingly unimportant and then would rush forward with the key events. Also, I did feel really stupid at times. In fact, I’m still not sure if I completely understand the ending, lol.
Cruel Beauty is definitely not a book that will work for everyone. Some people will love it, some will hate it. It’s certainly not your conventional YA fantasy. I personally really enjoyed it though and would recommend it to people who love their heroines to be slightly more on the dark side and are not bothered by plots that have a tendency to be disjointed. The novel did manage to stay true to the original source material while still being fresh and unexpected.