25 February 2014

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Cruel Beauty
Author(s): Rosamund Hodge
Genre(s): Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult
Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray / January 28, 2014
Series: Stand Alone
“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.” -Ignifex
Case Study
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. (synopsis from Goodreads)

The Game's Afoot
Beauty & the Beast is one of the world's most recognized fairy tales. But have you ever wondered what this whimsical tale might look like if you fused it with the brutality of ancient Greco-Roman mythology? You'd get a story that's resoundingly familiar yet undeniably unconventional. You'd get Cruel Beauty.

Cruel Beauty garnered quite a bit of buzz in the YA community in that people either loved it or they hated it. Books like this are always a gamble but I'm a big fan of fairy tales and mythology so I decided to give it take the chance. I'm really glad I did.Though Cruel Beauty is marketed primarily as a retelling of Beauty & the Beast, I found it to be more Greek myth than fairy tale. And if you're familiar with Greco-Roman mythos, you'll see notes of it everywhere. It's in the bones, from the setting to the history and definitely in the romance.  Cruel Beauty is one of those books that's inspired by rather than retold, and for that, I admire it.

Based on some of the other reviews, I was expecting grandiose info dumps and an overly convoluted plot. Fortunately, I didn't see much of that anywhere. I thought the world-building was concise, enough for me to get a good sense of what the kingdom looked like and how it functioned. There's a lot going on and it's easy to get lost so I saw the descriptiveness as a necessary thing. Like I loved the imaginative descriptions of the Gentle Lord's house. I loved how it changed and flowed and had a life of its own. The house feels like a living, breathing, sentient being. Through Hodge's rich descriptions, the house becomes a character in its own right and THAT is the mark of a talented author.

But probably my favourite thing about this book is its characters. Nyx is quite the unlikeable character. In fact, she's downright mean. But she's also incredibly complex and given her situation, being raised as a sacrifice, you totally understand why she is the way that she is. She's bitter and angry and vengeful and I totally felt for her. It makes her hard and hostile and bad-ass. I mean, she punches her demon husband in the face. PUNCHES. HIM. IN. THE. FACE. And I totally want to be her BFF because of it. And then there's Ignifex, the Gentle Lord. The bad guy of all bad guys. But he's not really so bad. Well, he is but he's got his reasons for being so devilish. He's a tortured guy. Like Nyx, he's suffered and that suffering has turned him into an unforgiving, iron-fisted ruler. And it's that suffering that makes him and Nyx the ideal couple.

Oh yeah. Speaking of Ignifex and Nyx, let me just talk about their romance for a second. I don't typically like stories solely for the romance, but man, I TOTALLY did here. I ship Nyx and Ignifex SO hard. I loved everything about them --- their cruel banter to the gradual softening towards one another --- it was incredibly entertaining. They go from hate to tolerate to mutual understanding to love in a beautiful way. Now there is a love triangle in the book, however, it's not your average love triangle. It doesn't permeate the whole of the story and, thankfully, is resolved quickly and in a unique sort of way. As for Shade, I wasn't really a big fan. Like the other characters, there is more to him than meets the eye but I was never really sure what to think of him.

Aside from the incredible character development, I also have to give Hodge mad props for the uniqueness of this story. She blends fairy tale elements and classic mythology in a way that's fresh, exciting and new. There's a lot going on in this book but she fuses it together in a way that makes sense. You get lost in it entirely. And this is why I think a lot of us love fairy tales. Because they entrance you and encapsulate you in a fantasy, in a thing of beauty. And this is what makes Cruel Beauty so successful. It's whimsical and terrifying and beautiful and cruel all at the same time. So yes, while Cruel Beauty does have its issues, generally speaking, they didn't hinder my enjoyment of the overall story. This is one of those books where its strength lies more in its characters than in the plot. There's magic in it, everywhere, and it completely captivated me, like any good fairy tale will do.

Summary Prognosis
Cruel Beauty is an interesting blend of fairy tale and mythology. Though the foundations of the story are somewhat familiar, the character and scenery are unforgettable. There are parts to the book (i.e. - the ending) that are a tad confusing, but overall, Hodge has given us something fresh and beautiful. My fondness for the book lies more in its character and breathtaking world building than its convoluted plot. This book has the SHIP of all SHIPS, so if you're looking for something to sail then this book is definitely for you!

Rating: ★★★★½

Read It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible
Discuss It: Goodreads | Author's Website


  1. Cruel Beauty sounds good Nikki. Glad the love triangle doesn't overdo it and Ignifex and Nyx sound like fun characters. Sounds like a fun fairy tale!

    1. Yeah, I'm not usually a fan of the dreaded love triangle but I found it was, sort of, a non-issue in this book. Ignifex and Nyx are AWFUL people and I really loved them for that. It's nice to see a change from the norm (aka the imperfectly perfect, average person).

  2. Awesome review, Nikki! I loved it too, and you pretty much nailed everything I enjoyed about it. I loved the flawed characters, their flaws just make them so much more interesting. I'm really looking forward to her next book!

    1. I agree wholeheartedly, Tammy! The fact that they were SO miserable and unlikeable is what really struck me with this book. It's DIFFERENT and I loved it for that. I hear she's doing a novella of sorts using the same characters/universe as Cruel Beauty so I'm definitely eager to check that one out. And pretty much anything else she writes. I'm a solid fan, even after only one book!


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