Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Release date: January 28th, 2014
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
Series: No
Source: e-ARC
Rating: Greek myths + Beauty and the Beast + lush prose + tons of worldbuilding = one confused/beguiled/mostly confused reviewer.


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.

This book constitutes one of those rare instances where I literally have no idea what I feel. I am an opinionated person, and I tend to react strongly to things one way or the other. Cruel Beauty? I haven't got a clue. it's such a Gillian book, full of lush imagery, inventive world-building, fairy tale roots, a prickly heroine with lots of hate in her hate, and a love interest about as far from Prince Charming as you can get. Because of all those elements, I say the book is fabulous. But it's also not. But it is. But arrrgh, mind! MAKE UP YOURSELF.

This book is like no other book I've ever read. It's a mash up of Beauty and the Beast and Greek mythology, though it also includes elements of Bluebeard, old English country paganism, and even Rumpelstiltskin. Somehow all these elements go together, though I suppose it helps to have more than a passing knowledge of Greek mythology and a lot of tolerance for dense worldbuilding. That was problem numero uno for me: HOLY WORDBUILDING. The beginning of this book is definitely the stickiest bit. You're treated to great long paragraphs about How Arcadia Came to Be and Why It Is Greekish and Why the Sky is Parchment (very cool and gorgeous, I will admit) and also the deal with Tom-A-Lone and Why the Gentle Lord Must Be Vanquished and What the Heck a Hermetic Working is and whoaaaaa, hold on there, my brain just short-circuited.

Things pick up tremendously once Nyx, or Beauty, reaches the Beast's house. Nyx is betrothed at birth by her father to the Gentle Lord (aka big bad Beast). The Gentle Lord, Ignifex, is not so gentle, being an evil dude who makes evil deals with desperate people that always turn bad. Nyx's father made one such deal before Nyx and her twin sister, Astraia, were born, and their mother died because of it. Because of that deal, Nyx must marry the Gentle Lord when she comes of age.

But Nyx's papa's not the forgiving sort (nor is he particularly the loving sort), so he raises Nyx with one purpose: that she marry the Gentle Lord and promptly kill him. He doesn't really care if she dies in the process, of course. She's sort of the spare sister. Nyx has all kinds of resentment and bitterness inside her, and my gods, is she a wonderful heroine. Even as I struggled through parts of the novel and plot, Nyx's characterization always resonated with me. She has a blackness inside her that makes her wonderfully complex. She is angry, she is ill-used, she is envious, and I love her. She makes many frustrating choices, and can be irritatingly fickle, but I always rooted for her.

I found myself unable to decide if I loved the many gorgeous scenes of Nyx wandering Ignifex's magical, shifting castles, full of enchanted chambers and whatnot. I did, because the writing was beautiful and the creativity displayed was amazing. I didn't, because plot, I'd like one. I also find myself nearly incapable of talking about the romance because SPOILERS, but do know that I saw the big twist coming a mile off, though it's a clever twist that I was glad was occuring. 

Ignifex... well, he's another huge part of why this review will probably weigh towards the positve at the end. He's horrible, but he's charming. He's clever, he's dangerous, he's attractive, and he's confusing. He has a darkness inside him just like Nyx. He sort of reminded me of Heathcliff, except I want to punch Heathcliff hard in the nuts with my brass knuckles, and I want to hug Ignifex. Why? How? What is this witchcraft, Rosamund Hodge? He's the WORST and yet I like him. But I also want to stab him a little bit. How even.

Where the book lost me a bit was with this Shade person. He's a... oh gods, I can't even remember. Ignifex's slave/demon/shadow person? This book is complicated. Basically, he's bound to do Ignifex's bidding, and considering Nyx is a spiky, bitter person with trust issues, it was bizarre to me how quickly she trusted and developed a rapport with Shade. (Also Ignifex, come to think of it.) But mostly, Cruel Beauty shines when it comes to characterization. Nyx, Ignifex, Nyx's sister, Astraia, and even Shade all have layers and motivations and secret hearts. 

And then the plot goes and does a thing, and I'll state right now it's one of my least favorite plot devices, though it certainly have merits. So many people will love where the plot heads, but I don't particularly. A few elements of the plot twist are like OMG WOW. But the gist of it? Not the biggest fan, I'm sorry to say. 

However, I don't want to shortchange this book too much. It's so original and ambitious that I can't help but recommend it, despite the muddle my opinions are in. The book comes together beautifully and cohesively, though it requires some time and focus on the part of the reader. The language is absolutely stunning and ornate. The plot needs a swift kick to the pants, and I wish I had found it within myself to fully commit to the ship and the narrative choices. (Or... maybe I do ship it? I think I ship it, if I contract selective amnesia about some of our Winning Love Interest's actions.) Also, there are shades of a love triangle (LOL SEE WHAT I DID THERE) (the dude's name is Shade) (I'm brilliant--SHHH!). It's not really a true love triangle, but... well, just read. 

And lastly: STOPPIT, blurb. This book is not one single thing like Graceling. Not one single thing. That's not a criticism of Cruel Beauty, mind, though I dearly love Graceling. It's just a fact.


  1. Amazing review Gillian. <3 I actually really loved this book :D Hih. But I do understand why you are confused! And I'm happy that you kind of enjoyed it, still. <3 Ignifex was just awesome, wasn't he? Sigh. But ohh. I had forgotten that it was compared to Graceling. But yes. NOTHING like Graceling. Graceling will always be my favorite book. <3 Cruel Beauty was amazing, but you cannot compare it to Graceling. It isn't like it at all o.O Hmm. Weird people who wrote that.. hih :D ANYWAY: Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Bahahahahaha. I love the whole love triangle bit of your review! That was just pure genius! I think I just excused all of the odd bits of this book and clung to the parts that I loved so hard that I didn't even realize that it did have some of the issues that you mentioned. That being said I loved pretty much everything about this book, even though I could have done without Shade, now that I think about it. Ignifex will always be one of my top book guys, which probably says something about me... doesn't it...

  3. The cover is absolutely gorgeous and after watching Epicreads last week I decided to do some research on this book to see if I should read it but from all the reviews I click on everyone just seems so LOST. I don't know how I feel about Cruel Beauty now, I mean I know you say you still recommend it but I feel like it's so ambitiouis and has so many different elements from different stories in it I might just get confused and I really don't want to get confused. URGH I'm so confused now lol!
    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

  4. Seriously, Cruel Beauty has got to be one of the most mind-effing books I've read in the past few years! It's got so much good stuff - Nyx, Ignifex, the house, the world - that I did like it. But it's also got something that didn't work for me, perhaps the pacing or even the twist in the story (which I called from the start). I can't say I hated it though! It's actually good. And unique.

  5. Okay, so I totally used that No/Yes gif for something, but I don't remember what. I think it might be a review in the queue of stuff that just sits there. Lol.

    The beginning was SO SLOW for me. And also confusing. I feel like I missed SO MUCH. Which annoys me. But whatever because THE SHIP IS MASSIVE AND UNSINKABLE AND NOT IN A WAY THAT IS SINKABLE LIKE THE TITANIC.

    Yesssss, underneath your internet-friendly exterior, you are a Nyxian, so you like the bitchy characters. This is why we are friends. There will be any number of reviews about how she's horrible. This happens to my favorite heroines.

    I also called like all of the twists. And yeah it's the same about OMG I LOVE IT and also kinda boring all at the same time.

    Yeah, I am happy with my four. The romance was a five, but the slowness and stuff was just too much.

    The blurb author was massively drunk.

  6. I have this book in my TBR and I loved reading your review! With all the positives and negatives and your not being sure about it!
    Great review, Gillian!


Note: comments on posts older than 90 days are automatically moderated, so they won't show up here immediately. Thanks for commenting! :)