Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperTeen)
Source: an ARC from Epic Reads because they're AWESOME.
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.
First line: I was raised to marry a monster.
You have to know something before you read this review or before you pick up the book: nothing can prepare you for the greatness of this book. I'm sorry, but it's true. If you have an experience like mine, you will find yourself completely in love with this book and confused as to why you didn't think you would be. It's not that I didn't have high expectations—I really did—or that I didn't read incredibly positive reviews—I read a lot—or that I was bracing myself just in case—okay, I might have a little bit, but not that much. I was simply blown away by my love for this book.
Because her father made a foolish decision to bargain with "The Good Lord," Nyx has to marry the evil ruler with a "secret" agenda to murder him, which will absolutely lead to her death. She deals with resentment towards her favored twin sister, her aunt (who's shacking up with her widowed father), and her cold-hearted father (but who only acts that way to her). Then she has to marry the monstrous lord. Of course, we all know at least the outline of her journey because everyone is familiar with Beauty and the Beast. So we know.
Or do we?
Beauty and the Beast is a common retelling, I think especially in YA fiction, and usually incorporates the same elements: girl sacrifices herself for her father, mysterious house, "evil" beast, enchanted mirror, forbidden rooms, trouble at home, and the beast needs help. Deep down, we can all be reassured that everything will work out because that's how it's supposed to go. Rosamund Hodge doesn't give us that reassurance, ladies and gents. Many times, I felt my whole body go tense because I hoped and wished that everything would turn out right. I constantly reminded myself that this is not Beauty and the Beast so Cruel Beauty can do whatever it wants and twist me around its little finger because there are no guarantees. It might have been only me, but one of the parallels involved (and probably an obvious twist to others) astounded me. I was in awe because I didn't connect the dots until I was way into the story.
Then there's the fact that the I was die-hard in love with the characters. I don't think I could have loved Nyx more. I feel like I always praise complex characters, but that's because complex characters are interesting and connectable. Nyx felt torn between her bitterness/resentment and her love for her sister. She felt evil inside, but strived to save her world. She craved her father's care, but resented him too. She was torn between so many decisions and feelings that I sympathized with her more than I have with another character in a long time.
"I'm here!" I shouted. "Your bride!" Congratulations on your marriage!"
Ignifex was amazing as well with his equally dry wit and snarky attitude. Both were dangerous, both unpredictable, and both played off each other wonderfully well.
Ignifex sat down. "If you start wondering how this house works, you'll likely go mad. That could be amusing, I suppose. Especially if it's the kind of madness that causes you to run naked through the hallways. Do feel free to indulge in that anytime."
I applaud Rosamund Hodge for everything. Absolutely everything. And I don't think I'm going overboard with my praise. Great mythology, those twists I was talking about, and then there's this fantastic thing called world-building. I'm telling you, I was in love.
I thought something else was incredible as well. Hodge may not have realized it (or anybody else for that matter), but she incorporated many Disney movie elements. Below, you will be attacked by gifs from Disney movies that I was reminded of while reading Cruel Beauty.
As you can see, it felt like Hercules and Beauty and the Beast had a baby that had features resembling its relatives Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and Peter Pan (yes, that scary shadow dude is Peter Pan's shadow). For a Disney lover like myself, this made it even more fun to read.
Verdict: Blown-away by this fantastic "retelling" mixed with mythology and