Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: January 28 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
The nitty-gritty: A strange, lovely, odd, scary, violent, magical, romantic and bizarre re-imaging of Beauty and the Beast.
Day and night, I was free to explore the house—and I went everywhere that I could, for my key opened almost half the doors. I found a rose garden under a glass dome; the roses formed a labyrinth in which I always got lost, and yet—according to the cuckoo clock at the door—I would always stumble out again in exactly twenty-three minutes. I found a greenhouse full of potted ferns and orange trees. The air was thick with the warm, wet smell of earth. Bees hummed through the air; the glass walls were frosted with condensation. I found a round room whose walls were covered in mosaics of naiads and tossing waves, and the air always smelled of salt, and no matter which way I turned, the door was always directly behind me.
Sorry for such a long quote, but I wanted to give you an idea of what this surreal and beautiful story is like. So, I adored this book! Yes, it was weird indeed, and I’m sure some readers will have trouble getting into the story for that reason. But since “weird” is my middle name, I had no problem at all. Cruel Beauty is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, and I was delighted to see many references to the original story. (If you aren’t up on those details, check out this Wikipedia page.) But Rosamund Hodge’s version delves into mind-f*ck territory, as you will discover for yourself when several mysteries are revealed near the end. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are unexpectedly complex and yes, sometimes unlikable, and the world building is unique, to say the least. If I haven’t convinced you yet to read this book, well, let me keep trying:-)
The story goes like this: Nyx has been told her entire life that she will someday be sent to marry and live with the Gentle Lord, a demon who lives in the castle on the hill overlooking the village of Arcadia. Nyx’s life has been bargained away by her father, who made a deal with the demon to save the life of his wife. But her father has also planned and schemed that Nyx will find a way to destroy the Gentle Lord once she gets there and free Arcadia from his terrible rule.
Nyx fulfills her duty and arrives at the castle as planned, only to discover that the Gentle Lord, or Ignifex as he calls himself, is not the demon she imagined him to be. Nor did she expect the castle itself, an enchanted maze of rooms, gardens and nooks that endlessly move around, to be so bewildering. Armed only with the knife her sister gave her before she left, and a silver key from Ignifex that opens only some of the doors in the castle, Nyx must find a way to complete the task her father expects her to do. But can she kill Ignifex? As time goes on, that question becomes more and more difficult to answer.
Hodge uses Greek mythology in her story, and she’s created a magical system called Hermetic magic (based on the God Hermes) that I absolutely loved, which reminded me of alchemy. The Greek myth of Pandora’s box also plays an important part in the story. But my favorite part of Cruel Beauty was Ignifex’s fantastical castle. There are endless doors leading to endless rooms, but they move around and change. This manipulation of space lent a dream-like quality to the story and really made it feel like a fairy tale.
And wow, the characters. I loved Ignifex the most, and he definitely reminded me of the Beast in Disney’s animated Beauty and the Beast. He seems scary on the outside, but once you get a peek behind his hard exterior, you find a complex and vulnerable man. Everyone fears Ignifex because of the terrible bargains that he makes with the townspeople. But Nyx soon learns that although he can be harsh, he is kind and has flaws just like humans do.
Nyx, however, is even more complex than Ignifex. At times I despised her. She says exactly what’s on her mind, and the things that come out of her mouth are often downright mean. But even as she’s spouting hateful words, she realizes what she’s doing. She’s a very self-aware character, which you don’t see much of these days. And when Nyx and Ignifex are together, get ready for sparks to fly, and I don’t necessarily mean romantic ones! I loved their interactions with each other, and I never felt as if I could predict what was happening with their relationship. One of the running jokes between them is that she is always trying to steal keys from him. Ignifex wears dozens of keys around his neck, keys that can open every door in the castle. But because Nyx is only allowed to open certain doors, she must use her wiles and ingenuity to take the keys away from him. These playful moments made me love their characters even more.
The third main character in the story is an odd one: Ignifex’s shadow. Shade can move independently from Ignifex, but only at night does he manifest as a real person. There’s clearly magic at work when it comes to Shade, and Hodge surprises us yet again when she finally reveals the nature and relationship between Shade and Ignifex. Several other characters are important to the story, in particular Nyx’s cruel father and her sister Astraia.
Reading Cruel Beauty was like being in a dream where you aren’t certain whether you’re dreaming or not. Honestly, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s hidden behind this book’s beautiful cover. There is a lot going on here, but Hodge brings all the elements together flawlessly. Cruel Beauty is a treat for readers who love well-done imagery, mysteries, and the delicate craft of storytelling. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Cruel Beauty is available today and you can find it here: