Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty
Rosamund Hodge

Balzer + Bray
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review.
Releases January 28, 2014
352 pages
YA / Fantasy / Twisted Faerie Tales

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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.

I just had to bump Beauty & the Beast to the top of my Netflix queue. I haven’t seen that movie since I was a kid, but almost from the moment I began Cruel Beauty, I had an intense urge to see that animated film from my childhood. Rosamund Hodge takes that classic story – the original, not so shiny version as much as the more child-friendly version – and twists it into something new, dark and exciting. And yet it still inspired me to watch the version with the singing candelabra.

Cruel Beauty is set on an island ripped from the larger world that now sits beneath a parchment colored sky and is under constant threat of demon attacks. The population lives in fear of the Gentle Lord, who controls the demons and makes deals with anyone foolish enough to ask for them. Nyx’s father was one of those fools, and now his teenage daughter is being sent as payment to the Gentle Lord. She must marry him, use that marriage as a cover to attempt to destroy his rule over her town and hopefully reunite the island with the greater world.

What I would consider the two biggest reveals of the book I saw coming from miles away, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this twisted faerie tale. The entire story has a strange tone that starts with Nyx and the anger towards her father and the resentment towards her sister that she has carried nearly half her life. It’s reinforced by Ignifex, the Gentle Lord himself, who enjoys taunting his new bride and the terror he can instill in her. The castle full of moving rooms and locked doors ties that atmospheric darkness together until I realized I was reading a truly gothic YA novel full of demons and darkness, and yet somehow I couldn’t stop smiling through the whole thing.

Nyx is made of steel, fighting her nature for the benefit of her family only to let her years of anger and hatred out on her new husband. She explores the creepy halls of her new home with determination and a courage that overcomes her fear of what’s behind all those creepy doors. She holds her own against the charmingly snarky Ignifex and manages to surprise him with her guile and fortitude. She is a heroine stuck in a nightmare that Hodge manages to turn into a romance novel.

A third person haunts the Gentle Lord’s castle and he’s a great creation. Shade is Ignifex’s shadow, who can act independently of his master, but most always obey him. He slides across the walls and floors during the day, but returns to human corporeal form in the middle of the night. Because he is sweet, obviously just as trapped as she is, and shares the same ridiculously handsome face as her husband, Nyx falls for this shadow man and swears to free him if it’s the last thing she does.

Everyone is carrying around secrets, though Nyx’s are more obvious because we’re walking around inside her head. Nobody is quite what they seem and ulterior motives cloud everyone’s actions until it becomes a question of who will betray who next and how long until the pain is reciprocated. Nobody is sunshine and roses in this book, and that’s a beautiful thing. The flaws are all spread out and everyone has at least a little bit of hatred in their heart. Hodge makes these characters likeable in their darkness and it’s refreshing to finally have it make sense that the girl fell for the jerk.

Hodge’s writing is suspenseful and beautiful. Tossing in an elemental magic to explain the continued existence of an island on its own, what could have been a straight forward “demons took over the world” story into something more nuanced and layered. I got lost with Nyx as she discovered new and wondrous things behind each new door of her home.

And it’s a standalone! For a minute as I reached the end, I didn’t see how all this could wrap up in the final 25-30 pages I had left, but Hodge wraps everything up nicely without it feeling rushed. This is a twisted version of Beauty & Beast unlike any I have read before. Rosamund Hodge has created a heroine as flawed as the bad guy, so it’s difficult to determine who represents which part of the paradigm. That makes a story that I found to have obvious twists still fascinating and captivating in all its darkness and charm.

 

I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review. Thank you, Balzer + Bray and HarperTeen for sending me a copy!