Review Take Two: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Monday, January 13, 2014
Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Genre: young adult, fantasy, retellings, supernatural
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Published: expected January 28 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 5/5

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. When I finished this, I couldn't talk in non-caps for at least half an hour. I sent massive amounts of emotionally flailing DMs to Blythe from Finding Bliss in Books. This is not a book that can be accurately reviewed. It must be experienced. And take my word for it -- you will need a flail buddy. Not since Crown of Midnight has a book had me reeling this much. Epic book-hangover with a side of excessive fangirling to go, please.

This book right here. HOLY CRAP. You want to know what Cruel Beauty has that others don't? Grand worldbuilding. Intricate, subtle plotting and authorial sleight of hand. A romance that takes tropes EVERYONE hates and makes them work. Characters that have personal growth and individual character arcs. Nuance -- both in plot and characters. Imperfections that make the characters more real and interesting. Inventive new approach to magic and magical systems.

Wow. This book is a mindfuck. A dark, twisted, lovely little piece of fiction masquerading as young adult literature. It takes Beauty and the Beast, adds some Agamemnon/Iphigenia influences and some Hamlet vibes, tosses in some mythology and then creates a convoluted, crazy plot that cohesively ties everything together. Needless to say, it's an ambitious project but damned if Hodge isn't the perfect author for it. Her style is eminently suited to this strangely engrossing and creative story.

When I heard Cruel Beauty was a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling, I was sold.  When I started hearing Greek/Roman myths (Oh hey there Kindly Ones!) being tossed around in connection with the title as well, it shot up my anticipated reads for 2014. Despite the hype and attention and absolute flailing surrounding this book, this is one that deserves all the attention it's garnered. It's more than a good story. It tells a great story while being creative, original, fun, creepy, full of allusions to other literature, and boasting a cast of complex, intriguing characters. The story of La Belle est la BĂȘte has been around in pop culture for decades, in various incarnations (you could say it is a tale as old as time) but without a doubt, Rosamund Hodge has put a distinct spin on her version.

Think of Disney's version of this story. Picture their sweet, kind, smart Belle. Then picture her almost exact opposite: sullen, resentful, raised as a weapon, destined for death and loneliness. That's Nyx, our antihero heroine. Like her counterpart and love interest Ignifex, there's both beauty and beast in her. She's smart and bookish, but girl has a major attitude. It's understandable (for the most part...), but Nyx is a piece of work. And I loved every minute of her messed-up and awkward narration. She grows and evolves and learns through the book. TRhe Nyx we leave is not the same one we started with.  And Hodge tosses her some truly awesome scenes through the story. Though I love both her husband and their banter - it reminds me a lot of Ismae and Duval from Grave Mercy - Nyx is the crux of the entire novel. If you don't like her, this book might be a struggle.

If you're like me and find her sass and snarkiness something to be commended, Nyx is your new favorite YA protagonist. Ignifex is her foe, her foil, her love, her enemy and her friend. Their relationship is so atypical for this type of book, it really ought to be relished. Their relationship follows the hate-to-love plot device, but it is so fun watching these two smart, complicated people grow from separate to parts of a whole. The romance is a focal point of the novel and it drives a lot of the plot progression, but Hodge sells it. You care about these two and you want to see if and how they make it work.

There is so much to love about this book -- I haven't even touched on half of what I thought or found in the text. This is a narrative with layers and meaning, hints and allusions. It pays to pay attention in Cruel Beauty. For a debut author, Hodge displays an incredible amount of reserve and knowledge about when to twist the plot or reveal pivotal information. She is clearly a clever author and the maturity and scope of her first novel easily show that. Cruel Beauty is impressive and far-reaching; a risk. But it is one that definitely paid off. It's not for everyone, but those that love it will REALLY love it.

I am a big, big fan of this book. It's like Cinder/Scarlet/Cress's darker, twisted, more selfish older cousin.  For all Nyx and Ignifex (Ignifeeeeeeeex)'s flaws and problems, they are characters it is easy to care about. It is easy to get sucked into this complete world that Hodge has built. It is easy to love Cruel Beauty because it's amazingly well-written, original, memorable, and fun. It's early in 2014, but this will be one of the books I push on people all year. 

Read it. 


  1. This book killed me. I actually just finished it last night. It took me awhile to get into, but once I did, I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I was enthralled and needed to know more. Then of course I was shocked to find out that she is a debut author, mostly because I wanted to read more from her.

  2. I've seen nothing but glowing reviews for this book (from bloggers I trust!) so of course it's pre-ordered! Your review really sold it for me though, loved it. Any book that brings out that much passion and begs for an eight paragraph review has to be worth it! I also really like how you described it as The Lunar Chronicles' darker, selfish older cousin haha! That tells me all that I need to know. SO excited to dive into Cruel Beauty in a couple weeks!

  3. Okay, I'm getting this one now. I can't resist a review like this!! (Also, that cover is pretty awesome.)


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