Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

By | 4:30 PM 1 comment

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.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Standalone novel
YA/Retelling/Fantasy

 4 out of 5 stars
Cruel Beauty is one of the books that are incredibly hard to thoroughly review without being spoilery, so I'll have to leave some points alone for the purpose of not ruining the book for those who haven't read it.

Cruel Beauty takes place in the most unique world that I've read in YA fiction, and possibly in fiction in general. This is both a strength and a weakness for the story, and the way it will be received depends entirely upon the reader. A lot of readers go into this expecting a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and there is much more to it than that. The additional inspiration for the plot and the world-building is drawn from numerous sources and, as such, may be confusing or jarring for some readers. While the aspects of retelling are not confusing (where we reference Beauty and the Beast, Rumpelstiltskin, Bluebeard...) as you don't need to understand or recognize the source to know what's going on, the world-building is largely built on information that is not common knowledge and may be hard to digest for readers unfamiliar with the source material. 

The world and magic system is built upon two major things: Greek mythology and Hermeticism. The world itself seems to be an alternate version of a Greco-Roman world, and works as if hundreds of years ago, something happened that made it differ from what we would see today. This world is cut off from the rest of the Earth and isolated, and the gods of Greek mythology are part of the traditional belief system. While I'm not the most knowledgeable of Greek mythology, I did think Hodge did a decent job of explaining what everything meant while incorporating it into the story. I'm not sure I think the handling of Hermeticism was as good, however. I'm familiar with Hermeticism and the Hermetic principles as they stand in our reality, and Hodge uses Hermeticism as a magical system. There are a lot of principles just outright said but not explained to the reader, and while I understood what was going on, I think it might be more than some readers can handle. A lot of readers seem to not know that Hermeticism is something that actually exists, and those who are unfamiliar with it may be confused by it. I would say that readers will get the most out of Cruel Beauty if they have some understanding of Hermeticism or Greek mythology, otherwise the amount of world-building may seem daunting and confusing. 

The plot drifted enough from the original story that I didn't feel like everything was completely predictable, as I've found with some retellings. It wasn't entirely unpredictable however. There was what I think was an intended plot twist that I saw coming in the beginning, but as it was something that I was hoping would happen, I didn't mind the predictability. (It was a bit of a relief to see I was right, actually.) The best part of Cruel Beauty, for me, was the romance. The chemistry between Nyx and her love interest was to die for. I think some readers may be troubled by the romance in the beginning, for reasons I cannot explain because of spoilers, but all I will say is hang in there before giving up on it.

In the end, Cruel Beauty is dark, strange and beautiful. I would recommend it to those willing to spend a bit of time wading into a bizarre other world, and ready to read through lots of romancy bits.
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1 comment:

  1. Wow, your descriptions of Cruel Beauty were so professional. I see what you mean by all the references being confusing...I feel that way with Moby Dick, or The Whale (I know so little about whaling). I like how you did a summary and then broke it up into key points. Fairy Tale retellings are some of my favorites, but at the moment I'm reading more realistic novels. Also not in the mood for romancy type stories...but maybe some time in future I will check it out.

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