Friday, January 17, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Friday, January 17, 2014 with 25 comments
Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Series: n/a
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source: ARC received from publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble

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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.



Confession time:  I'm a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast.  I could rewatch the Disney version with my daughter a hundred times and never grow tired of it.  "Gaston, you are positively primeval."  But since it's confession time, I feel like I should admit that I haven't read all that many retellings of the tale.  And with all the buzz this book has inspired, I was a little skeptical when I first picked this one up.

I really shouldn't have worried, though, because this novel is only loosely based on the original story and focuses a lot of its attention on Greek mythology, much to my delight.  If there's one thing I like more than Beauty and the Beast, it's Greek mythology, so naturally I loved seeing it infused into this gorgeous story, dark as it may be.  Also, faeries...there are faeries in this retelling, though they're not called that outright.  It's seriously like the author said "What three [awesome] things have no business being in a story together?" and made it work.

And it soooo works.  The story starts out slow, with the author spending quite a bit of time introducing the reader to the kingdom of Arcadia, the residents essentially trapped under a dome, not one of them ever having seen the true sun. Even so, Hodge's writing evoked a sense of romance, just in the way Nyx's situation is described, the tragic yet beautiful way her circumstances unfold.  The day has come for her to live up to her life's mission, and it's both heartbreaking and empowering.
"Death is always interesting to you, isn't it?"
He advanced on me like a cat stalking a bird. "You want me to worry more about my own demise?"
"Oh, no, I couldn't possibly bother you. Do go ahead and rest in comfortable ignorance."
"The better to kill me in my sleep?"
"It would be rude to wake you first."
Nyx is perhaps my favorite type of protagonist.  She's strong and capable, yet the author allows us to see her vulnerability, even when she shows it to know one else.  And I don't just mean her sorrow at being married off to a monster so that she might destroy him.  I'm also referring to her anger at her situation, at the fact that her father is sacrificing her to make amends for his own mistakes.  I think a person who finds herself in this situation should be allowed her anger, should be given time to wallow in self-pity and doubt before being sent off to complete her task.

Pretty much all of the characters in this novel have questionable morals and intentions, and though that will likely be off-putting for many readers, I reveled in it.  If characters can't be relatable or likable, I at least want them to be genuine with hints at their darker natures.  And none of the characters in Cruel Beauty are particularly likable.

Except maybe Shade, but considering the dark and deceitful natures of everyone else Nyx encounters, I decided immediately that I wouldn't trust him.  Ignifex, on the other hand, never hid the fact that he was evil and leaned toward being brutally honest and forthright with Nyx by comparison.  I tend to fancy a villain who straddles the line between good and evil, who sees things in shades of grey rather than in black and white.  Which means I was over the moon happy when Nyx felt a pull towards him.
"But you know what you are, and what you deserve.  You lie to me but not to yourself.  That's why I love you."
I will probably always ship the villain who can be redeemed.  Or at least has the potential to be redeemed, i.e. Warner (from Shatter Me) and River (from Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea -- which I was reminded of time and again while reading this novel). Ignifex isn't pure evil per se, but he doesn't exactly have a heart of gold.  Yet, he can see Nyx for all her faults, can see past what her father has forced her to become and see the girl beneath the cool exterior.  For a girl who's only purpose in this life seems to be that she is to be used by everyone, this is epic.  Even Shade, for all his sweet and tender gestures, wants something from her.  Is it any wonder that she should feel something for Ignifex, even if it goes against everything she's been taught? Making it forbidden just makes it that much hotter to me.

I was warned about the love triangle way in advance of reading this novel.  I think it either desensitized me to the situation, or the manner in which the triangle was resolved itself was just so stunning that I can forgive it anything. Honestly, I saw it coming -- how everything would end -- pretty much from the moment Nyx met Shade, but sometimes it's all in the execution, not the outcome, as in this case.

I found everything about this story to be captivating:  the nature of Ignifex's curse, the castle that seemed almost to be sentient, the death threats and banter between Nyx and Ignifex that bordered on coquettish.  I loved every second of this strange, beautiful story.  This may be a "tale as old as time" but it's been made completely new again in the capable hands of Rosamund Hodge.  I want more from this author, and I want it now.


GIF it to me straight:




Cruel BeautyGilded Ashes: A Cruel Beauty Novella


About the author:

I love mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. My debut novel, CRUEL BEAUTY (a YA fairytale fantasy, where Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast), is due out from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins in Winter 2014.

Find Rosamund:

Website | TwitterFacebookGoodreads


25 comments:

  1. I love Beauty and the Beast so I'm really looking forward to reading this one, plus greek mythology and faeries, sounds like a cool mix. Thanks for the review!

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    1. It really works well...this might just be my favorite B&B retelling. :)

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  2. Oh, gosh! I want this one so bad!! I love the sound of how it's more mythology then plain retelling. (I'm a fan of retelling, but sometimes they can be...forced.) But genuine slinky characters? Yes, please. I think characters are the most important part of a story for me. They can be as evil as they want, I reckon, as long as they're good at it. XD

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    1. I feel the same...characters can make or break a story for me, but the ones in Cruel Beauty are near perfection. I hope you love this one, too!

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  3. I think I'm alone in not loving this one! I enjoyed it but something hit me wrong (part of the shade storyline) I thought the writing was beautifully done and I really enjoyed The Gentle Lord. He was my fave aspect.

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    1. No...I'm pretty sure I've seen some other middling reviews for it. ;0) I didn't really like the Shade storyline either, but he seemed less important as the story unfolded, and I actually kind of forgot about him for a bit. And the writing was awesome....I can't wait to read that novella!

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  4. This is the third review I've read today of the story. The words "Beauty and the Beast" has captured my attention first and foremost because it's my favorite movie (Disney version that is) so I don't read retellings of it. But now I'm plenty intrigued by the "ending" all reviewers mention in their reviews!

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    1. I love the Disney version! :) And I seriously think that this might be my favorite reimagining of B&B. I loved how dark it was.

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  5. I never really saw this as a love triangle but I did love how complex Ignifex and Shade were. And overall the book was really good and beautifully written. I'm so glad you loved it so much!

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    1. Honestly, I never did either. Shade was just a distraction. :P It was a gorgeous story, wasn't it? I'm off to check out your review now. :)

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  6. I never considered reading Cruel Beauty, but after reading quite a few positive reviews over the course of the month, I think I might have to give it a whirl. What caught my attention from your review was this line, "Pretty much all of the characters in this novel have questionable morals and intentions, and though that will likely be off-putting for many readers, I reveled in it." I enjoy exploring the grayer and often darker areas of what it means to be human. Then you say there's a bad boy with all the qualities to be redeemable? LOVE! And knowing the love triangle is resolved in a dignified manner makes me all the more curious. I'll have to find myself a copy and hopefully, I can get around to reading this beautiful story later in the year. Terrific review, Jen! :)

    Marlene @ The Flyleaf Review

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    1. Oh, then I definitely think you'd enjoy this, Marlene! These characters are all sorts of shades of good and evil! I really hope you get to read this one soon!

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  7. I was not aware that it had more to do with Greek mythology than Beauty and the Beast. That's awesome because I love Greek mythology. I have to admit I wasn't too sure if I wanted to read this book either but after seeing quite a few good reviews I decided I would give it a shot. Seeing your review makes me want to read it more.

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    1. Yay! I really enjoyed the interspersing of mythology in the story, especially since I didn't know it was going to be there until I got started reading. ;) I hope you give this one a try!

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  8. I'm a fan of many of the components that you mentioned, but I'm not into love triangles. It sounds good enough that I might venture in regardless. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. The thing is, it never really felt like a true triangle to me. I don't love triangles either, but this one didn't bother me in the slightest because I already had an inkling how it would go. And those other aspects in the story more than make up for any ickiness you might feel because of the supposed triangle. I definitely say give it a try. ;0)

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  9. Great review! I loved this one too!

    I agree with you, I loved the realistic portrayal of all the characters. They each had a dark side and although they weren't the more LIKEABLE, I really loved Nyx. :)

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    1. Nyx was just such a great heroine, wasn't she? I want more characters like her in YA! So glad to find someone else who loved this one as much as I did. :D

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  10. YES to all of this! Beauty and the beast is my favorite and I was excited/scared at the same time, but this book totally delivered it :) Nyx was a wonderful protagonist, with her realistic and dark personality.

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  11. I can't handle this review. YOU'RE DOING THINGS TO ME, JEN. The characters sound amazing and the writing and the SHIP. That gif is perfect. Then there's the fact that she made the story her OWN and now just another retelling, which would be easy to do and HAS been done, unfortunately.

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  12. 5 stars! I AM EXCITE. Kate is reviewing this for us so I didn't really have an excuse to dive into it just yet, but all the rave reviews have me super curious. I'm so glad you loved it!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  13. Such a lovely review, Jen. I can feel your excitement about this book leaking off the page. I agree that the characters are incredibly compelling, and I like them more because of their questionable nature. Although I also guessed about Shade, I was still so annoyed at Nyx for trusting him immediately. It drove me nuts. But I'm extremely sensitive to triangles these days. For me, it was definitely a case of the end doesn't negate the journey. BUT besides that, this was a fantastic retelling. I've seen beauty and the beast a bazillon times as well.

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