Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge.
Published: January 28, 2014.
Published by: Balzer + Bray.
Source: Requested an ARC for review from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. Thank you, HarperCollins Canada!
More from the publisher here.
Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.
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.
I have very, very mixed feelings about Cruel Beauty. On the one hand, I very much enjoyed the story that Hodge has crafted. On the other, though, I came out of reading this novel feeling almost no emotion or connection whatsoever. It made for an interesting reading experience at least, because while I felt rather neutral about the whole thing, at the same time it was certainly a creative story and I didn't want to stop reading purely because I wanted to see where the plot went.
One thing that I can fully appreciate with this novel is that I can see where Hodge pulls inspiration from. There are clear Ancient Greek and Roman influences as well as a Beauty and the Beast type plot line. These were very enjoyable to explore and I liked the way they were included. There is a strong Ancient Greek and Roman feel to the setting and traditions, which I loved see come to life. The plot crafted is intricate and blends a lot of elements together well. At its base, the plot follows a Beauty and the Beast path, with a girl forced to live in a castle with a man widely regarded as very cruel and a relationship slowly blossoms between them. However, there is also much more going on that distances this story from Beauty and the Beast and really shows off Hodge's imagination. The castle itself becomes like another character as it constantly shifts to hide or reveal some of the many secrets it holds. It is undeniable that this whole world is incredibly creative and I am in awe of Hodge's brain.
I can also appreciate the characters Hodge has created but I think this is a large part of where the connection was lost for me. The main character, Nyx, is by no means a "good" character, despite being forced into a hero role. She is rather mean and angry and has completely valid reasons for being that way. It has been made very clear to her that her father and aunt value her sister's life over her own and are willing to risk her death to help themselves. If that doesn't warrant a strong sense of resentment towards the entire family, I don't know what does. I think she's a very convincing and well crafted character. She just didn't do anything for me personally. Sadly, neither did the Beast to her Beauty. Ignifex is the lord residing in the castle to whom Nyx is promised. He is the man she sets out to kill. He is also the man she falls in love with. While I enjoyed his dark playfulness, I wasn't truly drawn to him in any way. I was almost kind of... bored. I wish I didn't feel so 'meh' about them when I appreciate them as characters, but unfortunately I did.
All in all, this was a beautifully told story that I just didn't connect to. I enjoyed the creativity and the blend of elements that I adore, but couldn't fall in love with the characters. I can absolutely appreciate Hodge's storytelling ability and will certainly be interested in what she writes next. This one just wasn't quite right for me.