Book: Cruel Beauty
Author/Authoress: Rosamund Hodge
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.
Despite the unfortunate blurb (trust me, this book is a lot better than the blurb suggests), this is hand’s down, the best fairy-tale book I’ve ever read. It manages to keep the essential elements for a fairytale- a twisted house with bunches of locked up rooms, a curious girl who goes poking around and a father who was stupid enough to give up his daughter to someone he thought of as a monster. But this book…this book transcends fairytales. There’s a healthy sprinkling of Greek mythology (Squee!) and, wonderfully lovable twisted characters and witty, esoteric dialogues (how is it that people shut up in a single house can be so sarcastic, witty and funny in turn?)
What I liked the book the most for was the main character.
Nyx is not a good girl. Not at all. She kind of hates her aunt, resents her father and is deeply jealous of her obedient and beautiful twin sister. In fact the last thing she tells her sister is that she hates her and their mother’s death was her fault. Outrageously shocking, right? Wrong. For the sake of his wife, Nyx’s father agreed to give away one of his daughters in marriage (read exchange them like they’re property) to a monster. By some cruel twist of fate (or maybe it was just a bad bargain), Nyx’s mother dies in childbirth and Nyx’s twin, who is lucky enough to look exactly like her mother is spared. However, this means that Nyx is the one destined to marry and kill the Lord of Bargains. It’s death sentence but no one in her family seems to understand the sacrifice she is making. Wouldn’t you resent and hate your family too if they were insensitive enough to make a plan to send you to your death without even a hint of sympathy?
So, Nyx has a bit of a dark streak. But at the same time, she’s terribly noble, clever and brave. It’s impossible not to root for her after reading a few pages. She has a very strong sense of justice and is hugely empathetic.
Ignifex is Nyx’s husband and he’s…for lack of a better word amazing. His sense of humour is strong and tends to be inappropriate at times (he’s the kind of guy who cracks jokes for fun, cracks jokes to break the tension, cracks jokes at serious times- basically he cracks a lot of jokes).His sense of humour juxtaposes with his reputation of being a dark, mysterious being who cheats people out of their lives, their family and generally their own happiness. He’s a bit of an enigma, really. And he’s completely (not just a bit) bipolar. At one second he could be warning his ‘wife’ with a deep, profound metamorphic story and then the next he would be saying something sarcastic and witty, making you (and Nyx) wonder what he really meant. Ignifex is the type of character who keeps you on the very tips of your toes, alternatively rolling your eyes at the cheesiness of his pickup lines (did they have pickup lines in medieval times?) and then leaning forward wondering if he had finally unveiled some great mystery about himself. He simultaneously infuriates and intrigues Nyx and their chemistry is very obvious.
A lot of things are ambiguous in this book. And the romance in this is one of them. I’m still not clear if there’s a love triangle or not.
Shade is a servant in Ignifex’s servant, he’s a shadow at all times during the day but during the night he wears a face exactly like Ignifex’s. At first I thought he was the ‘good guy’ because he actively helps Nyx find a way to destroy Ignifex and is portrayed to be gentle and sweet but like all the characters in the book, he’s a grey character who has done his share of horrendous things. At one point we are told, that Shade is Ignifex’s opposite; what Ignifex has, Shade does not and what Shade has, Ignifex does not.
I couldn’t really understand the ending. It was beautiful and it was profound but I wasn’t able to apprectiate all the the depth of the ending.
Cruel Beauty is a beautiful book which is about the consequences of one’s actions, shades of grey and sacrifice. All of these are very ambiguous topics so it’s not really a surprise that this book is unclear at some points, using metaphors which you have to read a couple of times to truly understand. I don’t understand why the blurb markets this book as a simple, frivolous, fun fairy-tale; this book is not exactly light reading (although it is pretty fun). At some parts it can get dark and at others it gets very deep.
If you’re looking for a good young-adult book based on a fairy tale, then I would recommend this book to you. It’s beautifully gritty and dark- just like a REAL fairy-tale (not a Disney one) so you might want to keep that in mind when you finally pick it up to read.