Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
On Sale Date: January 28, 2014
Juvenile Fiction \ Fantasy & Magic
Ages 13 And Up, Grades 8 And Up
Balzer + Bray, 352 pages
Source: Publisher
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
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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 was raised to marry a monster.

Cruel Beauty is an enchanting retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast. What is so different about author Rosamund Hodge's debut tale is not just the retelling of the story and romance, but of the unique world created and the mythology she has incorporated into it.  A world that captivated me and a story that thrilled me with it's clever re-imagining of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and it’s mythology mix. A romance of two compelling characters, both strong, yet flawed, that pulled me in.

Rosamund Hodge's writing is dark, lush, and lyrical as she spins a new version of Beauty and the Beast. She takes you by the hand and deposits you into her intricate world and story. This is not a fast read, but one you savor. The beginning does feel slow, but it's worth absorbing all the details and information, as Cruel Beauty weaves a tale that combines elements of magic, myth and fairy tale with sumptuous writing. There are traces of the even older story Cupid and Psyche found within Cruel Beauty, as well as elements from other fairy tales. Hints of Blue Beard are seen as Nyx plays a game with Ignifex in order to steal keys that open hidden and dangerous rooms, ones that holds his previous, dead and unsuccessful wives. We can see hints of Rumpelstiltskin, where each night the prince ask Nyx to guess his real name in order to break the curse. And like East of the Sun and West of the Moon, there is a decidedly sensual nature in Cruel Beauty as Ignifex tries to beguile and seduce Nyx. Greek mythology is sprinkled within the story with mentions of gods and goddesses, and myths throughout.

The setting takes place in a wonderful, alternate world called Arcadia that is filled with elemental magic, the kindly ones, and demons. It is this unique world of Arcadia that holds within it the enchanted castle of the Gentle Lord, the demon prince Ignifex. A cursed realm trapped within a parchment dome, beneath painted skies and sun. For those of you who love rich settings and world-building, Arcadia's lore and history is fascinating. By the time you come to the end of the story, Cruel Beauty, you’ll have been transported to an entire new and enchanting realm.

Like the traditional Beauty and the Beast, our heroine Nyx, is betrothed to someone she does not want to marry in order to save her father. In this case the Beast is nor ordinary monster, but the Gentle Lord, the prince of demons. Trained in the arts of elemental magic by her father since a child, Nyx's one goal is to kill her husband and free her father as well as Arcadia from the curse put upon them. Once the wedding ceremony takes place ( and unusual one to say the least) and Nyx enters into the realm of the Gentle Lord, the demon Ignifex, I was really held spellbound by the story. Besides the traditional elements of the Bride trying to come to terms with her situation- the possibility of either killing her husband, being killed by him, or gasp, consummating the marriage, Nyx must also try to break the curse put upon Arcadia.

Each night Ignifex, the Gentle Lord, dines with Nyx and teases and torments her with fear, hatred, and later longing. By day, Nyx searches for clues in the many hidden rooms in the vast castle, using the keys she steals from Ignifex at night. Each room is a delight, as soon as the key turns the door, Rosamund Hodge has a surprise waiting. Behind each door is a room infused with magic. Each one different with endless surprises. Mix into this heady mix is a unique twist to the story. The addition of a character named Shade, who befriends Nyx and tries to help her solve the curse. Shade is some how connected to Ignifex, and an additional love interest. This is one of the rare cases that a seemingly love triangle is done well, as Ignifex and Shade's interest in Nyx are connected.

The characters in Cruel Beauty are flawed, almost anti-heroes/heroines, but so compelling. I found them appealing and realistic.

“- I grew up knowing that my only purpose was to be my father’s vengeance incarnate.”

Nyx is consumed by resentment, and even jealousy. Trained since birth to accept her fate to wed the hated demon prince, and trained in magic in hopes of killing him, she struggles with issues of anger and resentment. Nyx is also a very strong willed heroine and a bit sassy, and has no problem standing up to Ignifex. And this is one smart heroine, actively searching out clues to more than one riddle and the curse upon Arcadia. But what I enjoyed most was the slow change that comes over her character as she realizes there's more to her husband, Ignifex and the curse put on Arcadia.

The Gentle Lord, Ignifex, prince of demons is a flawed, anti-hero. Handsome, beguiling and dangerous, he has done terrible things. He holds hostage and cursing the people of Arcadia and causing the great sundering. Compelled by his own curse, he suffers and is tormented.  A villainous monster who needs Nyx to help break the curse, finds he might be falling for her. That he wants to be her hero instead of her despised enemy. I enjoyed seeing this dark hero try to come back to the light.

Shade is an interesting character, and holds as many secrets as Ignifex. Without giving too much away, I will say he is an important aspect of this magical retelling, and the quasi-love triangle becomes easy to understand in relationship to Ignifex.

“They said that love was terrifying and tender, wild and sweet, and none of it made any sense.
But now I knew that every mad word was true.”

The romance is definitely one of attraction and repulsion. A push and pull between flawed and strong willed characters. Of innuendos and beguiling, as well as fear and torment. Needless to say, I loved it. Again, the so-called love triangle worked due to the very nature of the story and did not bother me. I love the older, original fairy tales that are more seductively overt, and love how the author Rosamund Hodge played with this theme of love and hate in Cruel Beauty.

He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. "That's what makes you my favorite." He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. "Every wicked bit of you.”

Cruel Beauty, filled with mythology, magic, and world-building, is a unique retelling of Beauty and the Beast. A must read for lovers of fairy tale retelling and fantastic worlds. Great for romance enthusiasts who like compelling romance between flawed and realistic characters.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars. I loved it!


Additional Notes and Fun Information on Fairy Tales:

I have to admit I love Fairy Tales, and their history in literature. I was fascinated by Rosamund Hodge’s notes in the acknowledgement section of Cruel Beauty that she was inspired by C.S. Lewis story Till We Have Faces, which helped shaped her ideas of what kind of heroine she wanted, as well as T.S. Eliot’s poetry the Four Quarters helped to inspire the imagery of Cruel Beauty, which is amazing. If you're not familiar with C.S. Lewis and Till We Have Faces you can check it out on Wikipedia. I was familiar with the story and found it fascinating how they both traced elements back to a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche. For a wonderful site devoted to books and fairy tales, you might want to visit SurLaLune Fairy Tales, which boast over 49 annotated fairy tales, including their histories, similar tales across cultures, modern interpretations, as well as over 1,500 illustrations. Over at Endicott Studio you can find a wonderful essay titled: Married to Magic: Animal Brides and Bridegrooms in Folklore and Fantasy by Terri Windling. Enjoy!

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