Title: Cruel Beauty
Series: Cruel Beauty Universe
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Genre: fantasy, fairytale retelling
In short: dark, with gloriously complex characters and an intriguing premise
Goodreads: 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 wasn’t born to be saved.”
Where to begin with Cruel Beauty? It’s definitely one of the darker fairytale retellings I’ve read. The story follows Nyx, whose father struck a deal with a demon (no, actually) so that his wife could have children. Like all bargains with demons, it backfired, and his wife died during childbirth—and the price for the bargain was to give the demon prince Ignifex one of his daughters. Nyx is that daughter—she’s grown up knowing she was a sacrifice, and because of that, she’s grown up to be bitter. She resents her twin sister for being the free one, she resents her father for never loving her as he should have. But despite her childhood, she’s grown up knowing precisely what her duty was: to kill the Gentle Lord, avenge her mother, and free their kingdom from an era of darkness. Of course, it’s not that simple. The castle itself rearranges its rooms to confuse her, and the truth about the Gentle Lord is much more complex than she’d ever expected.
This book’s strongest selling point is its characters, I think, and the way it’s rooted in such an interesting universe. Nyx was, to me, such a good heroine because of her bitterness—something like Katniss Everdeen. The unlikeable badass. She’s not a helpless little girl, she’s not stupid either, but she can still be vulnerable or confused. Then there’s Ignifex, who was such a complex, dark character—I can’t say more without spoiling the crux of the story, but his story was so interesting to read. The same goes for Shade, who goes against every single expectation I had of him when I first read about him. The mythology of Arcadia, Nyx’s homeland, is really fascinating as well. From what I understand, it’s the last remaining dregs of the Greek/Roman empires of old, and there are frequent references to those mythologies.
There’s still a lot about this book that confused me, like its resolution, and the Hermetic lore (which is a kind of magical knowledge involving sigils) seemed confusingly explained. It didn’t by any means ruin the reading experience for me, though, and I think that’ll be expanded on in the later books set in the same universe.
All in all, I think Cruel Beauty definitely surpassed my expectations and surprise-attacked me. It’s a really creative retelling, and anyone who’s a fan of dark characters and fairytale retellings should give it a go.
I received this book as a free ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. All quotes are taken from an advance copy and are subject to change.