Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodges
January 28, Balzer & Bray (Fantasy, Young Adult)*
My rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)
Cruel Beauty was an interesting read, and it’s one that I’ve put off reviewing as I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. It’s part Beauty and the Beast and part Persephone and Hades retelling. It was the comparisons to Beauty and the Beast that drew me in, and while I was not expecting the allusions to Greek mythology, it somehow worked.
Nyx has been promised to Ignifex since birth, and the day has finally come when she will marry him. This will be no happy marriage, as Nyx has been trained to kill him when she gets the opportunity, ending the curse that enslaves her country, Arcadia.
Naturally, Nyx’s actual meeting of Ignifex changes things considerably. Rather than attacking her once they meet, Ignifex gives Nyx the single rule that she must follow:
“Every night I will offer you the chance to guess my name.”
It was so completely unexpected that it took me a moment just to understand the words, and then I tensed, sure that his rules were about to turn into a threat or mockery. But Ignifex went on, as calmly as if all husbands said such things. “If you guess right, you have your freedom. If you guess wrong, you die.” (p. 44-45)
Nyx doesn’t expect to gain her freedom. She never expected to live period. She would kill Ignifex and likely die trying. So when Ignifex gives her another option, Nyx is completely baffled and her plan is thrown off course:
Why wasn’t my hatred simple anymore? (p. 130)
The writing in Cruel Beauty was quite beautiful. The whole book had a fairy tale flavour that I really liked. Even the dark themes reminded me of classic fairy tales. The world building was also lovely and I loved how the world of Arcadia was described. For a world so intricate, it was described perfectly and simply.
While I loved the writing and the use of fairy tales and folklore, what made this novel outstanding was the character of Nyx. She was an unusual young woman. She was selected to be the “hero” for her family and free Arcadia, but she resented this fact. She didn’t want to be the hero, she didn’t like her family much, she bordered on hatred for her sister who would get to live and was showered with their father’s attentions. In a sense, her family’s grooming of Nyx to be the savior, left her vulnerable to Ignifex and his attention to her:
I had been waiting, all my life, for someone undeceived to love me. And now he did. (p. 149)
I liked these qualities in Nyx. I think this contrasted nicely with the more one-dimensional nature of a fairy tale story. Fairy tales tend to be short and sweet, but Nyx was complex. Her choices weren’t right or wrong, and there was no easy answer for her. This conflict was beautifully executed.
Cruel Beauty was a fascinating look at the Beauty and the Beast story. And while I’m not overly familiar with Greek mythology, I thought the inclusion of this with a more traditional fairy tale was surprising in the best possible way. This was a lovely story and I would recommend it to fans of fairy tale retellings and fantasy alike.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss.
Howl’s Moving Castle: This seems like a odd choice, but there’s something about Cruel Beauty that immediately brought this book to mind. I guess it’s more of a children’s version, with lots of curses to keep the intrepid heroine on her toes.
The Assassin’s Curse: Like Ignifex, Naji is cursed and only the pirate heroine will be able to break it, but at what cost?
Scarlet: This is book two in Meyer’s sci-fi fairy tale retellings and it’s amazing! If you like the fairy tale aspect of Cruel Beauty you need to check out this series. This one features a re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood, and like Nyx and Ignifex, Scarlet and Wolf do not have an auspicious start.