Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

cruel beautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Published: January 28th 2014 by Balzer & Bray

Source: ARC from publisher

Synopsis (Goodreads): 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.

My thoughts:

I have very mixed feelings about Cruel Beauty, which was one of my most anticipated 2014 debuts.

Re-imagining Beauty and The Beast with a demon as Beast and a girl who has trained her whole life to kill him  as Beauty is a great hook, and I definitely fell for it. I find adaptations and retellings of classic fairy tales annoying and clichéd as often as I find them brillant or fun, but I was still more excited for this one than most. Especially because the book was compared to Graceling, one of my favorite books, I had high expectations. While I liked a lot of the world-buildings and themes of this novel, Cruel Beauty didn’t impress me overall.

The synopsis doesn’t hint at it, but the belief system in the medieval fantasy world of this book is inspired by Greek mythology. It’s more Cupid and Psyche than Beauty and the Beast (although the stories do have some similar elements). While initially I enjoyed the references, they became so often repeated it slowed down the story and I found it distracting.

The lack of subplots weakened the story. There is no conflict outside Nyx’s relationship with Ignifex. The first third of the novel is Nyx repeatedly explaining her terrible predicament over and over and over. She expresses bitterness towards her naive, pampered sister, and then guilt over her feelings toward her. She resents her father and despises her aunt. While I didn’t dislike these aspects of her character on face value, the manner in which she constantly reiterated her feelings grated on my nerves.

The comparison to Graceling is misguided. While Katsa can sometimes be an exasperating character, as can Nyx, the third person perspective makes Katsa’s moodiness much more palatable than the first person voice of Nyx. There is so much action and political maneuvering in the Graceling Realm series, and the plot is intricate and surprising. Cruel Beauty is mostly predictable and straightforward.

There are very few characters, and yet Ignifex and Nyx both feel underdeveloped.The Gentle Lord failed to ever be swoon-worthy in either his demon or shadow self, but neither did he garner much sympathy from me. I did like the way both Nyx and Ignifex liked each other not in spite of, but because of each other’s faults, but the pacing of the developments in the romance were all stops and starts. I was excepting more gothic creepiness, mystery, or sinister motives. There wasn’t anything actually scary that happened.

I don’t doubt Cruel Beauty will find many fans. Readers who enjoy a heavy dose of mythology and don’t mind a high creepy factor in their romance will enjoy it. Those who like their fantasy a bit dark and don’t mind a lack of humor to balance it out will appreciate the tone and mood of the story. The whole package never came together for me, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work for some people.

Read-alikes: This reminds me of The Madman’s Daughter (review here) or Strands of Bronze and Gold (review here). Both are retellings of classics or fairy tales that I felt personally ambivalent about, yet see the appeal for a certain type of reader.

Second opinions:

A Reader of Fictions: “Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty is a complex, magical, ornate story which will charm the patient reader. It’s a work that bears more than one exploration, and which will no doubt improve upon further inspection. If you enjoy Greek mythology, tragedies or the original, bloody fairy tales, do not miss Cruel Beauty.”

Ivy’s Book Bindings: “Cruel Beauty does have its fair share of flaws, but ultimately, its take on the standard tale of “Beauty and the Beast”, not to mention its bold portrayal of unlikable characters, won me over. I truly enjoyed Hodge’s lyrical prose, her intriguing world-building, and the unforeseen story arc she had created.”

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10 thoughts on “Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

  1. I was really conflicted about this one, and I was trying to put my finger on why, and I only just now realized the complete and utter lack of subplots. And I realized that was the something that was missing for me. I didn’t mind the characters so much, and I loved the world building – it was the plot that disappointed me even though it had all of my favorite things (deception! murder! forbidden love!). Also, there were certain elements that came out toward the end that I would’ve loved to have seen developed more.

    Also, I try not to listen to publisher comparisons because I’ve found a lot lately that they are only tangentially related to the works they’ve been compared to – like they’re latching onto something that’s done very well in order to draw attention when there’s really not much of a comparison to be made. (For instance, The Selection was compared to The Hunger Games. They’re both about teenage girls who make the old dude in charge mad, I guess.)

  2. “I have very mixed feelings about Cruel Beauty, which was one of my most anticipated 2014 debuts.” <— YES. My feelings exactly. There was so much I wanted to like, some I did, and some I really DIDN'T. I found that the mythology aspects really dragged the story down. I'm not a BIG mythology fan and the repetition and constant allusions took some of the magic out for me because I'm just not that into it. I was much more interested in the retelling aspect. I did appreciate that Rosamund Hodge really did her own thing to make the retelling her own, but I just didn't latch on to a lot of it. I enjoyed the world building but even that didn't seem totally developed for me.

  3. This is disappointing. I love Beauty & the Beast and while I think the Cupid and Pysche concept is interesting, it’s not Beauty & the Beast. I’m also not a huge fan of Greek mythology based stories. I think Greek mythology is fascinating, but it’s been done so often that it’s hard to be different anymore. And underdeveloped characters is a problem

    Great review, Molly!

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