Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Cruel Beauty Universe #1
Published January 28th 2014 by Balzer + Bray
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.
*An ARC was provided by Balzer + Bray in exchange for an honest review.*
Cruel Beauty is another one of those books that I got to quite late in the game. It's not that I wasn't eager to read it right from the start, but for whatever reason, it perpetually stayed in the to-read pile until a month ago, when I finally took the plunge. It seems like most of my trusted bookish friends loved it, and I was very much expecting to bask in it's apparent awesomeness. Unfortunately, my feelings for it are more of a jumbled mess of good things and bad things. Much like this book. Caution: black sheep review straight ahead. If you love this book like air, this review might not be for you.
I should start by saying that there were many things that I did enjoy about Cruel Beauty. There was a gorgeous mix of mythological elements woven into the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, which inspired this story. I adore mythology but I wasn't expecting to find it here, which was a pleasant surprise. That fact, coupled with the glorious setting that is Ignifex's (the Beast's) castle -with its winding staircases, changing hallways and rooms filled with mystery - well it seemed like everything was headed in the right direction here. I could literally have spent the entire book exploring the castle at length and never have gotten bored. I'm pretty sure that the castle itself was what kept me turning the pages compulsively at first...
The characters were...unique to say the least, and I enjoyed them for the most part. Despite the main character Nyx being quite difficult to love, I still found myself mostly sympathetic to her situation. That isn't to say that her constant changes in disposition weren't frustrating as hell sometimes, but I could see how her family issues, and you know, the fact that her father basically sold her into marrying a monster might affect her more personable side. It's true though that Nyx never seemed to be able to make up her mind on what exactly her purpose and motivations were. One minute she had the killer instincts of an assassin and in the next second, she turned into a hopeless romantic, desperately clinging to anyone who'd show her any kind of affection. o.O The entire thing was off-putting at times, but it didn't really affect the flow of the story.
Ignifex was definitely a highlight for me, and easily my favorite character of the lot. His enigmatic persona, inherent sarcasm, bad boy persona and his situation made him a mystery I was bound to unravel. The only bummer was that I guessed the truth about him and Shade at the very start, so when it came down to the big reveal, I was pretty flabbergasted that Nyx hadn't guessed it sooner. I mean, wasn't it fairly obvious to everyone else who read this, or did I just get lucky with my hunch? To top things off, when it came time for the big change for both Ignifex and Shade, I just wasn't on board. I didn't want it to go down like that. I liked Ignifex just fine the way he was, thank you very much and I would have much prefered for him to be redeemed on his own than to meld with Shade. And then, for that to trigger a big: 'oooh the previous world was just a memory' trope? Ugh. o_O And speaking of Shade, while he was intriguing and mysterious in his own right, the insta-love declared by him and Nyx didn't especially sit well with me. After sharing one kiss, Nyx admits to the fact that she knows he already loves her and that she probably loves him too. Whaaa?!
My other issues with Cruel Beauty lie mostly with the plot and it's resolution. Everything seemed unnecessarily complicated at best and a hot mess of detours and tangents at worst. The world-building was very good when it came to Ignifex's castle and it's many enchanted rooms but unfortunately, that didn't quite transfer to the mechanics of the actual world or it's magical system. To fully commit to the fantasy elements that were without a doubt the basis of this book, I needed to understand all the elements that made everything possible. Yes, I needed to understand ALL.THE.THINGS. Like, what exactly was The Sundering? Who were The Kindly Ones specifically and how did they come to be and rule? And for that matter, how did they come to 'not-be'? How do Ignifex's powers work, really? The basic construction of this world and it's inner workings simply weren't explained in enough detail for my liking.
If I'm honest, I enjoyed the first half of Cruel Beauty a hell of a lot more than I did the second half. There was more suspense and uncertainty at first, but then it all seemed to dissolve into a star-crossed romance in the second half. While I enjoyed the romantic aspects of the book well enough (namely, Nyx and Ignifex), I could have done without the sort of love-triangle angle and what I felt was blatant insta-love for Nyx and Shade. I could go on about the plot being weighed down by long descriptions at seemingly every turn, but I digress. On the one hand, I enjoyed some parts of this book well enough, but other parts of it really frustrated me. I give it a smack-dab-in-the-middle rating to reflect my inner conflict:
My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars