Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty Rosamund Hodge
Cruel Beauty Rosamund Hodge cover

Title: Cruel Beauty 
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Fantasy, Romance, YA 
Publication date: January 28, 2014 
Rating: ★★★★ 

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.

Let’s start by saying this book was not what I expected. I knew from the very first page I was going to like it. I’m not sure what it was, but Nyx’ internal voice sucked me in from the very first sentence. So did the story. No time is wasted on introductions or explanations. We learn those later on. No, the very first sentence is: I was raised to marry a monster. And just like that, we’re taken straight to the main character’s dreaded wedding with the Demon Lord.

This book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but I think it’s remarkably well done. The resemblances are there of course, but there’s a lot of Rosamund Hodge’s own imagination in it. More than there is of the original tale. Nyx is hardly anything like ‘Beauty’ and Ignifex is a completely different Beast. The original fairytale is just a whisper in the background, a kind of support for the main story. This is a lot darker, compared to the Disney version at least.

Knowing the truth is not always a kindness.

The book is narrated in the first person POV, like so many YA these days. First person POV doesn’t bother me as long as I like the main character. I did. Nyx Triskelion is a strong-minded, tough, caring, but also scared, angry and sometimes vengeful young woman. I like it when characters are conflicted and she definitely was. She was raised knowing she would one day marry the Demon Lord because her father made a deal with the devil before her birth, selling her out. Her or her sister, actually, but her father decided pretty early on that she was the one he was willing to give up. She tries to deal with those facts and despite everything she tries to live up to her father’s expectations. Unsurprisingly, though, there is a lot of hate between her and her family. Her father because he made that foolish bargain, her aunt because she’s always trying to prepare her for her upcoming marriage and her sister because she’s the loved one, the one who gets to live a happy life.

All of that is of course very understandable. But Nyx was sometimes a bit too impulsive for such a survivor. She did things she instantly regretted, yet did them again not long after. And she was also a bit over-dramatizing (is this a thing?) For instance when she kept saying she had ruined her sister’s life, when in fact she had ‘only’ hurt her.

“You fought and fought to keep all the cruelty locked up in your head, and for what? None of them ever loved you, because none of them ever knew you.”

Ignifex was a very interesting character. He’s the greatly feared Demon Lord who trapped the people in a cursed world with a paper sky. The one who has terrorized the kingdom for centuries. He lives in the ruins of the castle that belonged to the last King before the Demon Lord killed him and his kin. Yet Ignifex is called The Gentle Lord, which instantly fascinated me. He’s a bargainer. A cheater. A demon lord. But of course he was also a love interest. I don’t think I’m spoiling, right? Even the blurb mentions this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. He was great at it. Perfectly troubled. Charming, yet cruel. Handsome, but dark inside. Wicked sense of humor… Should I go on?

I coudn't be kind to him after what he'd done, couldn't be cruel after what I had done.

There’s also great world-building in this book. It starts with the Demon Lord’s castle. He’s the ultimate villain living in a castle of ruins; one would expect his lair to be dark. Instead it’s an ever-changing palace with wonderful ballrooms, colorful settings and rooms full of brightness. It has its dark sides of course. Actually, there even is literal darkness. There are shadows creeping around in every corner, trying to capture those who get too close. And so it goes on. The Kindly Ones have a part to play, there’s a mysterious box that should never be opened etc.

Which brings me to another aspect of the story: the romance. Yes, there’s a love triangle. Sigh. And not very well executed, I might add. Nyx became really foolish and annoying when she was near… the third part of the triangle. (I’m not going to name him, you should find out for yourself) Such a pity. I’m not going to dwell on it for too long.

This book is a stand-alone novel, which is a nice change. I love series and trilogies etc., but sometimes it’s nice not to end a book with a cliffhanger. Would I love a sequel? Probably. But honestly, this book is enough as it is. I had almost forgotten what it felt like not having to wait a year for a story to end.

You should really try this book. I’m not saying it’ll be the best thing you read this year, but it’s definitely worth your time. It would have been even better had it been New Adult, but I suppose you can’t have it all. ;)

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