Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Cruel Beauty is a dark, intricately detailed fantasy novel that makes allusions to a reinterpretation of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The story is set in a fantasy world, and follows the tale of Nyx – a girl who has been raised to be a sacrifice. Nyx has known since she was a child that her life’s work is to be the wife of a monster, and to find a means to destroy him in order to save her world.
This book was a very conflicting and complicated read for me, and it has left me feeling truly torn and unsettled. The book was one that I have been highly anticipating – as it was marketed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast and in the same fantasy vein as Graceling. The story was intricately detailed, the descriptions were lush, and the writing was style itself was beautiful. I thought the premise was wonderful, and the books opening line was a great hook. The story itself was complex, with the unexpected and unusual, but not unwelcome, surprise of the Greek/Roman Mythology woven in.
Now, to be perfectly honest I am a huge fairy tale retelling fan – and Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairy tales. I also really enjoyed Graceling, needless to say – I went into this one with pretty high expectations. Perhaps that is part of why I found myself a bit let down by the book. To start, I didn’t get a Beauty and the Beast feel from this story, it might have alluded to pieces but it was too far off the mark from the original fairy tale for me to accept it as a retelling. So, I’m sure this influenced some of my experience.
In terms of recommended audience, I would say fans of darker romance, fantasy and Greek/Roman Mythology themes would be most pleased with this read.
This story is one of the few where I feel I have a lot of likes and dislikes, but first to start with the highlights…The first thing that really should out to me as a highlight in this book would be the fact that all the characters were flawed – they were messy and complex, no one was quite what they seemed, they had different sides and there were no stock “good” and “evil” characters. For me, this is always a pretty good selling point, I like to see different sides to characters, I want to feel that they are real and complex and decide based on the whole how I feel about them. I enjoyed the layers and surprises to each character, it made them more relatable and sympathetic for me.
Another piece I enjoyed, was Ignifex – as a character he was probably my favorite. I enjoyed watching his development and learning more about him, seeing the multiple sides to him beyond the initial impressions provided by Nyx and her family. In this same vein, I really enjoyed the conversations and interactions between Ignifex and Nyx – their sarcasm and verbal battles were a big plus and something I looked forward to as I read.
The castle was definitely a highlight and point of interest to me. It reminded me a bit of Hogwarts in Harry Potter (which I love), with the changing staircases, halls and rooms. It made me want to go exploring. Finally, the Mythology twist was surprising but pleasant as well.
While the characters had layers and were shown to all have flaws and a good and darker side I did have a few wishes in this area as well. First, let’s talk about Nyx – oh, Nyx, how you drove me a bit mad throughout the book. Nyx was a very bitter, angry, resentful and conflicted character – which given her situation was not surprising and I could definitely understand. However, Nyx was very repetitive to me with her griping– all right already we get it you hate everyone, you are dark and twisty! She was also kind of wishy-washy, and inconsistent, constantly changing her mind – it was hard to really “get into” her mind set or head and appreciate where she was coming from. Then there was Ignifex – easily my favorite character, however I would have liked to have seen a bit more to his development, it wasn’t quite there for me.
While I enjoyed the Mythology piece, it was also a bit complex and confusing. I am a fan of Greek/Roman Mythology, but not all the deities mentioned were “mainstream” ones and I felt as though to get some of the references I had to stop and look up the story – which kind of breaks you out of the book world. I want to be sucked in, not pulled back into reality while reading. This and the world the author sought to create itself, were very complex – which while they were interesting points, it also made the story hard to follow.
Another wish I had was over the romance; it just didn’t completely work for me. First, their were some definite insta-love vibes which always rub me the wrong way, I can’t elaborate without giving to much away but this was a definite issue for me. Then there was a sort of love triangle? It just felt a bit forced to me and honestly fell kind of flat. I guess it could be seen as interesting, but for me it just felt really odd and off.
Finally, I’ll end with the resolution – obviously I can’t say too much because I don’t want to give anything away. Personally though, I was not in love with the ending and how it was handled. I really did not like how things went for Ignifex, and it felt rather anti-climatic - a little too wrap it all up in a bow convenient, it really was not what I was expecting at all.
Overall, it was definitely an interesting reading experience, and though I have mixed feelings on the book it is one I would recommend. For me, it did not quite hit the mark, but it really is a very well written story with an amazing premise and I do love the cover. At times I found the book a bit tedious in the complexities, and it felt a bit long winded – but I did keep coming back to finish it. Ignifex and the castle alone were worth reading about, and I did truly enjoy the layers Ms. Hodge carefully crafted to each of her characters. Besides, I had a pretty strong reaction to this one, if nothing else it really makes you think.
If you are looking for a slightly dark, fantasy and enjoy Greek/Roman Mythology and don’t mind a hint of the fairy tale-esque, this book is definitely one you should pick up.
If you enjoyed this book and are looking for more similar dark, fantasy and/or Mythology type reads try:
Sweet Venom (Medusa Girls #1) – Tera Lynn Childs
Abandon (Abandon Trilogy #1) – Meg Cabot
Hex Hall – Rachel Hawkins
Stork – Wendi DelSol
Princess of the Midnight Ball – Jessica Day George
3 out of 5 Doxies – Really enjoyed it, read it now!
Tale of Two Doxies