Review: Cruel Beauty

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by Balzer + Bray on January 28, 2014
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Mythology, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible

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.

Where should I even start with Cruel Beauty? I have so many thoughts, all scattered about my brainbox. First off, I guess I should say that a lot of readers are probably going to struggle with Cruel Beauty. The writing’s ornate, the pace fairly slow, and the plot exceedingly complex and intricate. YA, in general, tends to go down easy, but Cruel Beauty requires reflection and discussion to suss out the finer points. I already know that this is a book I will be rereading, because there’s so much I missed the first go-round. Cruel Beauty is an acquired taste for sure, a beautiful child borne of fairy tales and Greek mythology, a union I never knew I so desperately wanted until Rosamund Hodge served it up to me.

Let me warn you, dear reader, that Cruel Beauty starts slowly. Hodge starts out with world building in a big way. For about a hundred pages, Cruel Beauty infodumps world building on your head. Were it not for Hodge’s incredibly gorgeous prose, I might have considered DNFing. As it was, the Greek mythology, fairy tale elements and the writing didn’t make that possible, but I was still concerned. However, once the sheer information overload ceases, Cruel Beauty becomes incredibly impressive.

Though I remain fuzzy on some of the elements of the world building, I’m certainly fascinated by it. Hodge seems to have developed an alternate history spinning off of Ancient Greece, one in which the gods and goddesses are all real. Within this scope, a demon has subjugated the land of Arcadia, where the heroine lives. The Gentle Lord encased Arcadia within a parchment dome and occasionally sics his demons on the populace. Characters hearken back to Greek mythology or to Greek dramas.

Hodge gets the tone of Cruel Beauty perfect. This book has the darkness of original fairy tales and the brightness too, the fickleness and unreliability of the Greek pantheon, and the family drama of the Greek classics. Everything is confusing and mired in shadow. As you read, you’ll find yourself constantly questioning what is real and what is illusion. References to Greek mythology and fairy tales are littered throughout the pages of Cruel Beauty for the discerning eye to admire. From a technical standpoint, I marvel at the complexities, even if I can’t appreciate them all on the first read through.

Two elements made Cruel Beauty a success with me on an emotional level. First, the heroine. Nyx endears herself to me by reason of her not being especially likable. With Cruel Beauty being in some measure a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, you might be expecting someone like the Belle of the Disney movie. In fact, Nyx is the “wicked sister,” the one who, in a classic tale, would not get the love of a prince, but would end unhappily destroyed by her own evil. Nyx has poison in her heart and on her tongue. She struggles to tamp down the hate inside her, desperate for someone to care but also constantly pushing them away. She’s angry and mean and entirely herself.

The other aspect I love wholeheartedly is the romance. The love triangle between Nyx, Ignifex, and Shade is one of the few that really works. The romance with Ignifex really makes me feel all the feels. For one thing, there’s again this darkness to the main characters of this fairy tale. They may be living in a fairy tale, but they’re full of the tragic flaws of Greek tragedies. The reason that I so entirely love this romance is that the love comes slowly, and that, for all that Nyx and Ignifex are messed up creatures, it’s so healthy. They fall in love with each other as they truly are, not with idealized versions of one another. He loves the poison in her heart, just as she comes to love his bad aspects. It’s not love in spite of the negative parts of their personalities, but because of everything that makes them who they are. SO MUCH YES TO THIS.

Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty is a complex, magical, ornate story which will charm the patient reader. It’s a work that bears more than one exploration, and which will no doubt improve upon further inspection. If you enjoy Greek mythology, tragedies or the original, bloody fairy tales, do not miss Cruel Beauty.

Favorite Quote:

“I suppose gods as well as men become stupid when they have a chance to get everything they want.”

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

beast grin

20 responses to “Review: Cruel Beauty”

  1. Sometimes I miss more depth in YA books, so I’m happy to hear about this. I like it when it’s a little more complex and challenging. And the fact that it’s a retelling from my favourite fairy tales makes it even better! It’s a shame that the beginning is a bit slow and info-dumpish. I think many people will DNF it for that reason, but I’ll keep that in mind now. The combination of the fairy tale and Greek mythology sounds great, I haven’t read anything like that before.
    I appreciate the fact that Nyx isn’t the typical fairy tale MC.

    I can’t wait to get started in my ARC!
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Monthly wrap-up. December & 2013.My Profile

  2. Awe wonderful review, and as long as the world-building is solid I can handle the info dump, but I am glad to know it is there. I love the premises for this and am glad to here it delivered for you. This one is on my wishlist 🙂
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…Caffeinated 2013 Top Ten Favorite “New Adult” ReadsMy Profile

  3. I have to say that although I noticed this book, this is the first review that really put it on my radar. Great review!
    Kate- Midnightbookgirl recently posted…Short and Tweet Review of Gabriel’s InfernoMy Profile

  4. Stormy says:

    I had similar thoughts on this book and really liked it in the end. I have to admit my mythology is a little rusty–it’s been awhile since I’ve learned it and it was never as fascinating to me as it is to many people–so I feel I missed some of the references in this book, but even so, I was able to understand the world in a basic way.

    I also liked Nyx so much precisely because she was so unlikable, but yet there was a quality that made me still root for her SO HARD. It was so refreshing, and I also loved the romance. I’ve never thought of it as being completely healthy, but now that you’ve pointed it out, I wonder if that’s why I enjoyed it so much. Like you said, they’re both severely messed up characters, but the way the relate to each other and fall in love is by seeing each other at their truest form–both good & bad.
    Stormy recently posted…A December 2013 Wrap-UpMy Profile

  5. Kayla Beck says:

    *does the happy dance* I have this in my car, and world-building makes me EXCITED! Oh, but I have to put it out there – Ignifex is a terrible name. I may call people that in the future.
    Kayla Beck recently posted…Blog Tour (Guest Post & Giveaway): SALT by Danielle EllisonMy Profile

  6. Hmmm, I wasn’t sure if this book was for me when I first read the book descrpition months ago, and after reading your review, I’m quite sure this isn’t for me. Mainly, I really need to like the main character, and it seems like Nyx isn’t that likable. I do love a fairytale retelling though. I’m glad that you did end up loving this one, though.
    Quinn @ Quinn’s Book Nook recently posted…Audio Review: Navigating Early by Clare VanderpoolMy Profile

  7. Rachel says:

    Well, I’m completely sold on this one. I know that it’s far from what I usually read, but I love anything dealing with mythology, plus the whole fairytale aspect. I’m interested in Nyx and excited to meet her. I like those characters that are a little harder to love. By the way, your review was absolutely beautiful!
    Rachel recently posted…On Your Radar: Heartbeat by Elizabeth Scott (+ Giveaway!)My Profile

  8. Angie F. says:

    I’ve been really excited for this one, but now I’m kind of nervous! I love lots of good world building, but not as info dumps, and I cannot be distracted by gorgeous writing. I’ll most likely still read this eventually though, because the premise sounds so fantastic. Plus I’m curious about this love triangle now!
    Angie F. recently posted…Review: Second Chance Summer by Morgan MatsonMy Profile

  9. Heather says:

    That gif is splendid! I’ve been interested in this book since I saw the cover, and I’m so glad to hear you like it. Mythology + fairy tales sounds like a completely amazing idea, and ornate language, too? Sold.

  10. Been intrigued by this one since I first saw the cover so I’m glad you enjoyed it. I don’t mind an infodump as long as whatever is being dumped is interesting – especially with world building. Will definitely be keeping this one on my list. Appreciate the heads up that it is complex and a slow read though!
    Dana (Little Lovely Books) recently posted…A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (Thoughts On)My Profile

  11. This was one of my most anticipated reads of Winter 2014, and I ended up being rather disappointed. The story just had so much potential, and I recognize all the positive points you bring up, like the wickedness of the heroine and her general unlikeability and the gothic flair to the writing, but I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s nice to hear that it did work for you!
    molly @ wrapped up in books recently posted…Passive Reader’s Advisory for Teens in the LibraryMy Profile

  12. Soma rostam says:

    This is really intriguing me.
    I think it’s the first review I have read of this book but it won’t be the last, am sure
    It is a very beautiful cover and the premise is interesting
    I am adding this to my to-read list, right this instant
    Your reader
    Soma rostam recently posted…ARC Review: Anyone But You by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes!My Profile

  13. All those potential reader struggles/pitfalls you mentioned with regard to this story are things that I love. And I love my Beauty and the Beast retellings. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this one ever since I first heard about it, and now I’m even more excited after reading your review. I do enjoy my YA books that are easier to read/process, but sometimes it’s just so refreshing to read something a little more complex where you can really come to appreciate the intricacies of it all.
    I’m glad it worked so well for you. Fingers crossed it also works out for me!
    Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books recently posted…Review: Burial Rites by Hannah KentMy Profile

  14. Even though I liked this too, I feel like such a black sheep for not being a fan of the romance. 😛 It’s definitely a really well-put-together novel, albeit a confusing one that times. I think I had to reread the ending three times to really understand it and what it was going for, which isn’t something I care to do. On the bright side, I’ve been making grabby hands at the novella since I finished it, so it definitely didn’t discourage me from Hodge’s writing. MORE FAIRY TALE FUN WITH DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD DEALS.

  15. Molli says:

    I keep forgetting this one has ties to Greek mythology. I’m so excited for it, though. I’ve read so many good, intriguing reviews that I already can’t wait for it. I’m really glad there’s a lot of world-building – not so thrilled with the info-dump, but that is a trap that a LOT of authors fall into. It’s so hard to avoid sometimes, in different books… but it makes me sad when it’s over the top.

    These characters and romances sound SWOONY though. Man, but you’ve gotten me psyched for this one. 😀
    Molli recently posted…Becoming a Better Blogger – #7: Making Time for MeMy Profile

  16. […] A Reader of Fictions: “Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty is a complex, magical, ornate story which will charm the patient reader. It’s a work that bears more than one exploration, and which will no doubt improve upon further inspection. If you enjoy Greek mythology, tragedies or the original, bloody fairy tales, do not miss Cruel Beauty.” […]

  17. Kelly says:

    I had already decided I was reading this, come hell or high water. Now, that decision has only been solidified, but I appreciate the
    warning about the beginning. I’ll keep that in mind!

    They fall in love with each other as they truly are, not with idealized versions of one another. He loves the poison in her heart, just as she comes to love his bad aspects. It’s not love in spite of the negative parts of their personalities, but because of everything that makes them who they are.

    *swoons* the next couple of weeks can’t go by fast enough!

  18. I almost didn’t make it past the slow beginning, but so glad that I did. I LOVE the romance and the ending was satisfying.

  19. Brandy says:

    “The reason that I so entirely love this romance is that the love comes slowly, and that, for all that Nyx and Ignifex are messed up creatures, it’s so healthy. ”

    YEEEEESSSSS!!!! I was concerned from the synopsis that this was romance was going to be problematic, but it wash’t. Another part of it that I loved was their balance of power. They both wielded control in their relationship. So refreshing.
    Brandy recently posted…Cruel BeautyMy Profile

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