I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by HarperCollins on 2014-01-28
Genres: Family, Fantasy & Magic, Love & Romance, Young Adult
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The romance of Beauty and the Beast meets the adventure of Graceling in a dazzling fantasy novel about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday, when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom's mountaintop, nothing is as she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband.Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can't resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who's gotten in her way by stealing her heart.For fans of bestselling authors Kristin Cashore and Alex Flinn, this gorgeously written debut infuses the classic fairy tale with glittering magic, a feisty heroine, and a romance sure to take your breath away.
You ever get the feeling that after finishing a book you just want to hug it tightly to your chest because that book has just taken you on an intense journey and you are happy and sad and filled to the brim to see it end. Friends, after much prodding (especially from Blythe), I picked up debut author Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty, a retelling of Beauty And The Beast and Cupid and Psyche. I knew based on the cover and the summary and tweets from people in the circle of trust that I would like the book. I did not know that I would be head over heels in love with this book. I was not prepared to shove some space on my favorites shelf, in order to clear a spot for Cruel Beauty. Perhaps I should have been better prepared, but you know, the surprise is the best part. I am surprised and thrilled and happy to proclaim that Cruel Beauty is one of my new top ten favorite books ever. It is worthy of sitting next to Robin McKinley and Rae Carson and Kristin Cashore and Diana Peterfreund. This book you guys, I just want to pass it out to people on the street. I’m about to spread the gospel of Cruel Beauty because I don’t even know what to do with myself or my life after finishing. I am all bereft at having zero pages left.
Nyx has been raised for one purpose in life, to kill Ignifex, the Gentle Lord who essentially commands demons. You see, her father, Leonidas Triskelion master magisterium of the Resurgandi, made a bargain with Ignifex. Unfortunately, like every other person who makes a bargain with the Gentle Lord, he got the short end of the deal. He asked the Gentle Lord to grant his wife the ability to bear children. And so, she ended up having two twin daughters, Nyx and Astraia. Part of the bargain was that one of the twins would be betrothed to Ignifex. Leonidas did not account for the fact that his wife would die in childbirth. As Astraia takes after her mother, he decided that Nyx would be the one to marry Ignifex. And so, Nyx has spent her life learning sigils that can nullify the power of the four different Hearts that keep Ignifex’s power and house working. And so, Nyx becomes Arcadia’s only hope of seeing the real sky again and of escaping the Gentle Lord’s rule. What Nyx did not bet on was falling in love with Ignifex. She did not bank on having her heart pulled between Ignifex and his servant, a human named Shade. And so, Cruel Beauty is about hard choices and a deep abiding love. It’s about myth and legend.
The thing about Nyx is that she’s so utterly human. She’s so flawed. I love her flaws and her vulnerability and her strength. As we read the book, we know that Nyx has a lot of hate and resentment in her heart. We learn that she does not embrace her fate as Ignifex’s wife and the hope of Arcadia. We learn that she harbors this hatred for her twin, Astraia, because there is not a doubt in anyone’s mind that Nyx will be the one to fulfill the bargain. You guys, I just loved Nyx’s character progression. I loved that she never gave up. I loved that she was conflicted and torn between Shade and Ignifex. I loved that she kept trying to come up with ways to defeat Ignifex in the beginning, despite how hopeless it looked. I love that she kept her oaths. I loved reading about how ripped apart she was, I mean, ripped apart in the feelings, not literally. I am just filled with sighs and emotions over Nyx’s character and investment in her.
The breakout star of Cruel Beauty though is Ignifex. When we first meet him, we are like wow that guy is a douchebag. He is annoying. He is callous. Then, there’s this shift. As a reader, I began to ship him and Nyx like it was the only ship in the world. You see that he’s this tragic character caught in this terrible fate, a plaything of The Kindly Ones. It’s like, as Nyx begins to fall in love with him, so do you. I think what I liked most about Ignifex was that he’s this anti-hero who isn’t quite so terrible. He never forces marital rights on Nyx. He treats her with kindness. We see that he is afraid of the dark. We see that he does not know his real name and all fantasy readers know the power of names. We know that Ignifex is complex and interesting and complicated. I guess I just really loved Ignifex because there is so much to figure out.
Cruel Beauty has a romance that is perfect for people who are in the hate-love fan club and those who need their burns to be slow. When Nyx and Ignifex first cross paths, when Nyx comes to live at his castle, she hates him. She wants nothing more than to kill him. Over time, though, her mind changes. You see, at first there’s Shade and he is similar to Nyx in that he’s bound to Ignifex and can’t leave and a prisoner. She kisses him and magic happens. I thought, wow, I want those two to be together so they can overcome Ignifex’s tyranny. But then, oh, Ignifex. It’s just, it’s perfect. And there is this deep love that is investment and gave me actual anxiety and chest pains, especially toward the end. I literally could not turn the pages fast enough to find out how it would all play out. The romance in this book is enough to make me press it close to my heart in hopes that the words would imprint on me and just stay there. This romance you guys. I am incoherent and just, fangirling. I can’t be more clear.
Arcadia is a rich world. It’s this island nation that was once a part of Romania-Grecia but is now cut off from the world because of a king’s mistake. It is a world where the people sing funeral hymns and pour the first and last sip of wine to their deceased loved ones in the Earth. It is a world where gods called the Kindly Ones reign through Ignifex and are not so kindly. It blends Pandora’s Box and other great myths together. It is a land where there are forces even older than the Kindly Ones. Where the peasants celebrate the Hedge Gods through a ceremony every year where a young girl is chosen to marry a straw Tom a-Lone in representation of this gorgeous legend where Tom a-Lone was cast among the dead by his mother Brigit and only comes up once a year to reunite with his love, Nanny-Anna. It’s sort of pagan. I loved how richly imagined Hodge’s universe and Arcadia was. The world building is Cruel Beauty’s bread and butter.
Rosamund Hodge is a writer whose work will fit perfectly among the greats of young adult fantasy. The words in Cruel Beauty beguiled me, conjuring a spell in which I could not think or focus on anything but Nyx, Ignifex, and Shade. The book is an intricate tale that will stay with me for a very long time. There is something timeless about this story and I think that it will resonate for a long time with readers. Cruel Beauty has a classical fairy tale feel and it’s kind of a shock that it does not open with once upon a time. Still, I am smitten with Cruel Beauty. It is my hope that after you read this, you pick up Cruel Beauty and fall as madly in love as I did.