Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
What do you get when you put Beauty and the Beast, Bluebeard, and Greek mythology in a blender?
Probably something that looks a lot like Cruel Beauty!
In this new YA fantasy novel, 17-year-old Nyx is doomed to marry the demon who rules her land, as the price due for a bargain her father made before her birth. Nyx has spent her whole life dreading and preparing for her fate, filled with anger at her father for sacrificing her so easily and filled with dismay, knowing that she has no chance of surviving. Nyx’s purpose is not just to wed the ruler, but to bring about his destruction, in order to free her people and avenge her mother’s death.
Easier said than done. When Nyx finally arrives at the ruined castle, she meets her new husband — incredibly handsome, of course — as well as the shadow servant, Shade, who is forced to obey but seems to be on her side. Secrets abound, and Nyx realizes that her task will be even harder than she imagined… especially when her hatred for her husband and captor starts turning into something else.
In Cruel Beauty, there’s a whole mish-mosh of fairy tale and mythology stirred together. The land of Arcadia worships the Greek gods, and their stories and curses inform the actions of Nyx and the rest of the characters. The main tale of the girl promised to the hideous creature and then falling in love is straight out of Beauty and the Beast, although twisted and turned quite a bit along the way. There’s a magical system as well, as Hermetic works (related to the god Hermes) are what allow people to harness the elements of air, earth, fire, and water.
So does it all work? For the most part, I’d say yes. The plot gets overly complicated with so many different fantastical and mythological sources contributing to the mix. The Hermetic concepts take up space and seem to be very important early on — but don’t really matter much by the end of the story. There’s magic and dark spirits and curses and bargains… and the plot ends up practically tying itself into knots to make it all connect and work out in the end.
But, despite the convoluted story line, I enjoyed Cruel Beauty quite a bit. I think it helps that I read it straight through, all in one day. Yes, it’s that compelling — one of those books where you vow to stop after one more chapter… and suddenly an hour or two have slipped by. If I’d read it in smaller chunks or over the course of a week, maybe I would have taken more time to think about the plot developments and poke holes at certain pieces. But gobbling it up all at once, nothing bothered me too much…
Because wow. That’s some love story! Nyx and her captor do a slow burn, gradually moving from mistrust and outright dislike to grudging respect and amusement, and finally, kindness and affection — despite Nyx’s horrible sense that she betrays her family and her people by feeling anything for this strange and seemingly cruel man. Their passion is palpable, and feels like the kind of epic love that can make someone risk eternal suffering for the sake of the other.
Oh, and can we just take a minute to gaze at that cover? Gorgeous.
Overall, Cruel Beauty is probably over-plotted, but it’s a thrilling and oddly moving narrative none the less. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, magical worlds, and dark secrets, this is one new release that you shouldn’t miss.
Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of Balzer + Bray via Edelweiss