Published by Balzer + Bray on January 28th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
Beauty and the Beast retellings evoke a sort of Pavlovian response in me. I hear of them, I read them. Totally basic response to stimuli. This sometimes works out really well and sometimes not so well.
Cruel Beauty is one of the times it worked out really, really well.
What a unique story this is. Seriously I didn’t think I could be surprised by a Beauty and the Beast anymore. I kind of liked the comforting sameness of them all, like a worn in hoodie you snuggle up in when you feel crappy. This book is not like that in the slightest. It’s a tough book to review. It holds you at arm’s length for a good chunk until you suddenly realize that you’re into it and now that you think of it, you’ve been into it for awhile and you’re not entirely sure when that happened.
This book is not going to be for everyone, pretty much every character is an asshole. I actually found everyone’s unpleasantness refreshing. In a land full of varying degrees of bad guys, you don’t have to worry about shipping the pure, fluffy bunny with the big, bad wolf. Everyone’s a wolf and you can settle in and enjoy.
The plot starts off extremely slow, Hodge does some pretty heavy info-dumping in the first couple of chapters. It was a tad overwhelming but the Greek mythology infused history was a fascinating take on fantastical world-building and kept me intrigued.
It helps that the writing is gorgeous. It’s dark and poetic without veering into purple. It makes the story feel lush. This isn’t the kind of book you’re going to breeze through, the complexity of the plot requires sorting-out activity on the part of your brain, but I enjoyed taking my time and picking my way through it.
Ultimately, Beauty and the Beast is a love story, so underneath the cranky pants all of the characters put on in the morning, they are wearing their Underpants of Love. But HOLD UP. What’s this? Cheerfully continuing on her way, casually turning typical YA tropes on their heads, Hodge throws in a unicorn, the likes of which I never thought I’d see: an enjoyable, completely unconventional triangle of luuuurve.
To understand how huge this is, you should know that I generally detest love triangles. While I can theoretically appreciate the character building device a properly applied triangle can be, at best they leave me tearing out my hair in frustration because I can’t settle into my ship in peace and at worst making me want to light puppies on fire because I can’t take the angst a moment longer and this seems like a healthy channel for my aggression. (I would never light a real puppy on fire. Why do I feel like I have to say that?)
Nyx, our intrepid and thoroughly prickly heroine, finds herself torn between Shade, the brooding, tragic hero who can help her on her quest and Ignifex, the charming, demonic husband she has sworn to destroy. Nyx flip-flops between the love interests (in a way that managed to be realistic as opposed to annoying) and though her ultimate choice of love interest comes off a little abrupt and insta-ish, it works in an extremely satisfying way. I credit the ship, they love each other for the best reasons. *snuggles the ship*
“You deserve all that and more. It made me happy to see you suffer. I would do it all over again if I could.” I realized I was shaking as the words tumbled out of me. “I would do it again and again. Every night I would torment you and laugh. Do you understand? You are never safe with me.” I drew a shuddering breath, trying to will away the sting of tears.
He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. “That’s what makes you my favorite.” He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. “Every wicked bit of you.”
Final verdict: Cruel Beauty is spectacular. It’s a weird bundle of magic and mythology wrapped around a bunch of old-hat tropes and a well worn tale that feel completely new in Hodge’s hands. If you’re looking for a darkly beautiful, twisted fairytale, give this one a shot.
1 hardcover copy of Cruel Beauty!
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