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.
Oh man, talk about potential. Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel was indeed a little cruel beauty to get through. Frankly, I haven’t met a book with a title that so perfectly mirrored the reading experience I had with it. Because wow, I had a mercurial love/hate relationship going with this book.
Hodge approaches her retelling of The Beauty and The Beast in a completely unique way, incorporating Greek mythology. There’s not only an enchanted castle but an entire continent, Arcadia. A Gentle Lord, the Prince of Demons, who makes bargains with humans that call upon him, rules Arcadia. Nyx, our female protagonist, is set to marry the trickster crossroads devil who goes by the name of Ignifex in order to fulfill a bargain her father made with him upon the birth of her and twin sister Astraia. Raised in Hermetic lore, Nyx is supposed to unravel the Prince’s secrets and set Arcadia free to revenge the death of her mother and the imprisonment of the people. But while she initially bonds with Shade, Ignifex’s shadow slave, it’s the Lord himself that she begins to fall for. Despite her ever-growing romance with Ignifex, Nyx has still sworn to do anything in her power to destroy his castle and the hold it has on Arcadia, and while she struggles to find acceptance and forgiveness from her family, it’s Ignifex that provides the one thing her heart has always been straining for – love.
Cruel Beauty is an astonishing retelling of The Beauty and The Beast. Hodge did a terrific job in researching the myths that she featured in it, and her world-building in the first half of the story was brilliantly done. However, I felt the book as a whole was too inconsistent. Some scenes were perfectly well rounded, and then others just seemed superfluous or too tedious, and others came too short completely. There were just too many holes in the writing overall to completely lose myself within the parchment sky and castle walls. As much as I love characters that are selfish and impossibly human, Nyx and Ignifex still had me overly frustrated with them every other chapter. Their realness just didn’t work in the long run. I cared for them in the first half of the book, but then found myself oddly unsympathetic towards them. What ultimately contributed to that was also the ending, which I felt was set up better than its actual reveal. Somehow, the mythic aspect just made way for a radical happy ending that didn’t go with the character and story arcs at all.
Overall, Cruel Beauty was a great debut release, and I’m pretty confident Hodge will continue to release enjoyable books. This one came a little short on the writing in my opinion – a great idea that suffered from flawed writing– which could’ve done with some more editing here and there, especially with the scenes that felt lacking or tiresome, respectively. I’m still happy I read this one, because I did connect with the characters in some ways, and I am glad Hodge decided to not only make The Beast but also The Beauty an antihero of her story, as opposed to just portray her as a pure and therefore redeemable character. Most of the time, The Beauty is this perfect young maiden, but Nyx has her own darkness and is aware of it, which made her developing romance with Ignifex a realistic rock of the story. If you love dark fairy tale retellings and Greek mythology, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. For me as a reader, there were too many discrepancies that made for a full five star rating, but I’d recommend this because of it’s eerie atmosphere and sinister motivations nonetheless.