Cruel Beauty: review

January 22, 2014 2014, 4.5 star books, fairy tales, fantasy, Kate, myths, rosamund hodge 67 ★★★★½

Cruel Beauty: reviewCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 28, 2014
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
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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.

Retellings of classic myths and stories with well-known mythological figures as characters have been really popular lately. They can be resonant and deep, using the comfort of the familiar to comment on society and human nature, or they can be cheesy and superficial, with that “Here’s a quirky thing about me that history got wrong, wink wink fart!” attitude, and it can be hard sometimes to tell which of those you’re dealing with until you really get into the story. I am happy to report that this book is very much one of the former.

Cruel Beauty is an exquisitely crafted retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche. I am in awe of Rosamund Hodge and her ability to strip that classic story down to its most basic narrative skeleton and build on top of it a brand new, complex world with rich, original mythology and characters. There’s also a strong tip of the hat to Beauty and the Beast and Bluebeard tossed in for good measure, and those elements push it over the top, making this a truly extraordinary novel.

One of the best things about this book is the almost aggressive unlikability of the characters. Nyx is not a Psyche or a Belle-type lady, going to her monstrous mate as a willing sacrifice to save her loved ones. Her father bargained with a demon before her birth, and now she is doomed to marry him and die like his previous wives, and she is pissed about it. As one would be. And she’s a screwed-up person because… Do I need to explain why? You read the synopsis. Her life is a pile of garbage, and it’s completely unfair.

Nyx and her twin sister, Astraia (who, by the way, named their cat Penelope, so these people are aware that normal names that don’t end in “X” are an option) have a really complicated relationship. Astraia comes across as weak, and everyone goes out of their way to protect her, where Nyx has been trained since infancy to slay the dragon on the hill. And Nyx resents the crap out of her sister for living a charmed life. What’s nice is that as the novel progresses, we get to see a stronger, feistier, more manipulative side of Astraia, one that Nyx never bothered to learn about while they were growing up because she was too busy being a resentful brat.

And the demon king, Ignifex, is the type of person who makes bargains that result in someone’s unborn baby being betrothed to a many-times-widowed demon (the Bluebeard aspects of this are no joke). Later in the book, we see him trick another man set on bargaining for what he wants (people go to Ignifex for favors on a daily basis, and each of them erroneously thinks he will be the man to finally outsmart the demon) into actions that will lead to his dying of Syphilis, alongside the woman he loves. Yikes. Ignifex is selfish and cruel, and I want to do all the sex with him (which is a weird thing to say in a paragraph that mentions STD’s, but it’s true).

And speaking of sex… Nyx and Ignifex have really excellent chemistry. They are flawed and broken, and ultimately (I think) kind of perfect for each other. Their banter is as cold and cutting as you’d expect, knowing the basis of their relationship, and it is wonderful.

There are a few big twists toward the end of the novel, and I saw all of them coming pretty far in advance, but I don’t think that’s a flaw in the writing so much as a result of the familiarity of the storyline. Regardless, I didn’t enjoy the book any less for not being surprised. And the ending is just so lovely.

The mythology of the book’s universe runs pretty deep, and at times it feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of everything that is going on. I want to read more from this world, and I am dying to get my hands on Hodge’s Cinderella-themed novella that comes out in April, Gilded Ashes. If you like complex characters, strong (if initially confusing) world building, and retellings of classic stories, you will absolutely love Cruel Beauty.


An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.


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Check back in with us on Monday for Tonya’s interview with Rosamund Hodge!





67 Responses to “Cruel Beauty: review”

  1. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I was overwhelmed by this book – in a good way. I LOVED the mix of fairytales and mythology. The fact that these characters were so flawed made this book even better. I really liked Nyx and how different she is from most fairy tale heroins. The chemistry between her and Ignifex was amazing. I felt their connection. I already can’t wait to re-read this one!
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…First impression: Literally.

  2. Sophia D

    This book sounds amazing…. Dark and gothic themes which I am always drawn to!

  3. Darith L.

    This review makes me want to read the book so bad! It sounds like a dark, but wonderfully told retelling! I can’t wait to get to it. :D

  4. kimbacaffeinate

    I am very curious about Nxy and the prose as these are two things that almost every reviewer mentions regardless of how they ultimately felt about the book. I am a huge fan of B&B and love that while this is classified a retelling that she makes it her own. Lovely review!
    kimbacaffeinate recently posted…The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd

    • Kate Bond

      Yeah, it feels to me that there should be at least three books in this world. Just so much is set up and barely touched on. Kind of similarly to These Broken Stars. There are just things I’d like to have expanded on.
      Kate Bond recently posted…YAuthor Talk: Rosamund Hodge

  5. Heather@The Flyleaf Review

    I really have been hearing great things about this book in the last couple of days–I’ve initially put off reading my galley because I recently read another B & B retelling that left me feeling kind of “meh.” But weird names aside (how DO you pronounce the demon guy’s name anyway? It’s a mouthful) I think I am going to enjoy this one much better. I love how there is a deep mythology worked in–that excites me, as does the flawed heroine–that’s a bit different then the Disney “Belle” character we usually find in this tale. With each review I’m starting to get a little more excited about this one….
    Heather@The Flyleaf Review recently posted…Book Review: Unhinged by A.G. Howard

    • Kate Bond

      Oh! And I saw your thing about the insta-love on your review, and wanted to add, on top of what I said on your blog, that the compassion Nyx shows, which leads to the reversal in their relationship, makes a lot more sense toward the end when that thing happens, and we see what her actual human essence is, and how much she wants to take care of and help people. SO while it was a little bit off-putting at the time, it made sense to me later. But you can’t talk about that in a review because IT’S THE END OF THE BOOK.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Cruel Beauty: review

  6. Giselle

    Great review, Kate! I didn’t love this one as much as so many but I do agree the writing is gorgeous and I especially liked the world building. Mostly my issue was that I got a bit overwhelmed with the large amount of greek myth in it. I’m not that well versed in Greek myth and while I do enjoy books with Greek mythology a lot, this one was a bit over my head. I found Ignifex fascinating as a character. LOL @ All of the sex! :D
    Giselle recently posted…Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

    • Kate Bond

      I saw your review a few days ago, Giselle, and I totally get why you found the beginning to be a little bit of a confusing mess. You’re kind of thrown into this world, which works GREAT if you’re in the mood for that sort of dark, deep whatever, but not so much if you’re like, “OK, time to read Beauty and the Beast meets Graceling.”

      Oh, Ignifex. He’s so Ignisexy.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  7. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    I really like that you highlighted this book’s connection to Cupid and Psyche as well as Bluebeard, both of which I can definitely see, though I mostly thought of Beauty and the Beast while reading. These characters’ “aggressive unlikability” was definitely one of my favorite aspects of this story, I thought Nyx and Astraia’s relationship added another layer of tension (though I kept getting her name confused with their island Arcadia), and I agree that Ignifex and Nyx together are pretty magical. Although I figured him out early, I struggled a lot with Nyx’s instant trust of Shade. But, thankfully, in the end that doesn’t matter too much. I’d definitely get in line for sex with Ignifex.
    Lauren @ Love is not a triangle recently posted…A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

    • Kate Bond

      OMG, I got Astraia and Arcadia mixed up, too, but that’s such a pet peeve of mine, and I ALWAYS get confused about similar names when other people do not have the same problem, that I didn’t put it in there.

      I did NOT like Shade. I understood her trusting him, because, really, who else is she gonna relate to in that castle? But I’d have been happy with less of him.

      I really liked the sister stuff that developed, especially in the last few chapters where we see them all differently.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  8. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    Kate, I agree with you 100%! I loved the infusion of mythology and fantasy in this novel but most of all, I loved how flawed and complex both Ignifex and Nyx are. We often see “bad boy” characters in YA, sort of like Ignifex but not quite as evil, but to see a “bad girl” like Nyx given such a nuanced nature full of gray matter was such a pleasant – and welcome! – surprise. I have to agree that the twist in the end didn’t fully do it for me since I wasn’t a fan of the pseudo love triangle with Shade (though I enjoyed the other aspects of that twist!), but this was such a very strong debut. Wonderful review, my friend! :)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…ARC Review: Faking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens

    • Kate Bond

      Thanks, Keertana! I agree about liking the twist but not the stuff that led up to it. Shade was a weird character, and I’d kind of like to see a version of the novel that doesn’t have that character at all.

      And hooray for nuanced bad girls.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  9. Sunny

    Don’t mind me, I’m just having a dance party over here. I was hoping that this would be amazing and it sounds like it is! Seeing twists far in advance can go either way for me. Usually, I’m annoyed. But since you seemed fine with it and it was because it was the familiarity of the storyline, I think I’ll be okay!
    Sunny recently posted…This vs That: Book Preferences

    • Kate Bond

      *Joins the Sunny Dance Party*

      Well, again, this was an adaptation of a few stories I’m very familiar with, so there were only so many places it could go. And one big twist that doesn’t come from the source material was obvious to me from the beginning because there was one story element I didn’t like, and I figured out the reason it was there because it was all that made sense, based on how good the book was otherwise.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  10. Sam @ Realm of Fiction

    I agree that the world-building can be confusing initially. I loved the creativity behind the concepts in this book, but I did find that I needed to read it twice to really grasp every single little detail. I struggled to fully invest in the romance in this one, but I did love how complex and flawed both Nyx and Ignifex were. And I’m curious about Gilded Ashes now! I didn’t realise that it was Cinderella themed. Thanks for sharing, and lovely review, Kate! :)
    Sam @ Realm of Fiction recently posted…Review: Into the Still Blue by Veronica Rossi

  11. Savannah

    I really enjoyed this book as well. I was so taken away by it that I’m excited to read what this author writes next. I think everything it put together nicely and I still can not get the story out of my head.
    Savannah recently posted…Review: Elusion

  12. Joyousreads

    I’ve been jonesing for this book since I got wind of it. Part of the reason is that I think this is such a huge undertaking. So I’m pretty curious how the author could own it. I’m glad it’s generally good.

    Great review, Kate. :)
    Joyousreads recently posted…Hoarders, Books Edition: Episode 98

  13. A Canadian Girl

    I really wanted to read this originally because I love Greek mythology and retellings but then saw some negative reviews that had me convinced that this wouldn’t be for me. Lately, I’ve seen a lot more positive reviews that have me once again excited about giving this a try. The worldbuilding sounds amazing and I’m thrilled that you found the characters to be complex, Kate.
    A Canadian Girl recently posted…Waiting on Wednesday: Love and Other Foreign Words

    • Kate Bond

      I loved it. I know the mythology was a problem for a lot of people who aren’t necessarily interested in that stuff, so fingers crossed that you’ll feel the opposite since mythology IS your thing.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Cruel Beauty: review

  14. Wendy Darling

    I am dyyyyying to read this, I feel like I’ve been panting after it for months! All the rave reviews have me very excited, and I actually love that the characters sound difficult and not altogether likable. That’s so much more interesting to me than ones that are carefully crafted for maximum appeal and zero offense.

  15. Kate @ Ex Libris

    Why did this book fall flat for me??? I feel like I didn’t read it correctly, or something. I liked how flawed Nyx was and I thought the world was so interesting, but I just didn’t feel as conflicted as I wanted to about Ignifex. I guess I wanted to really understand how conflicted Nyx felt and Ignifex just didn’t seem that evil to me. I feel like I missed something because everyone has loved it so much…..
    Kate @ Ex Libris recently posted…Uninvited By Sophie Jordan

    • Kate Bond

      I think that the stuff with Shade kind of muddied Ignifex a bit. I guessed the twist there really early on (partially because the writing was really good but that one part bothered me, and I had to figure out why such a talented writer would muddy the story in that way), so I saw it differently, but I think that the… How do I say this without spoilers? Ignifex gained some good in the sundering. And that made him not such an evil character. And the bad stuff that he did came out of the basic human flaws the people trying to bargain with him possessed, and those were the only people who encountered him, so they were the source of all the outside info on him. Everything Nyx knew about Ignifex heading into their marriage came from people who had made bad deals with him. So, yeah, you don’t get to really hate him the way you want to heading in. And then you find out WHY he makes the deals, and… yeah, I get what you’re saying.

      But I don’t think you read it the wrong way. I frequently disagree with other readers about books (I don’t care for Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles. I think Finnikin is an ok but predictable book with boring characters, and I think the subsequent books are genuinely bad. And everyone else in the world loves them, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong or that I read the series the wrong way.). A lot of people are going to react the same way you did. Sometimes book reviewers can lose sight of how regular people–people who don’t read 150-300 books a year–actually read. They don’t see as many love triangles and shit as we do, so they don’t share our pet peeves. So while this book was a breath of fresh air for a lot of us, plenty of other readers will find the love story to be weird and gross, and your review will help those people decide whether or not the book is for them.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

    • Kate Bond

      Man, I loved Nyx, too. Such a great character. She just…she felt like a real person to me.

      The Beauty and the Beast thing has been in all their marketing; I think more people would have noticed the Cupid & Psyche thing otherwise.
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  16. Melliane

    It’s a great idea to have a story like that. I love retellings but they really need to be well done because I love so much the original story and at the end it’s difficult to have something as good. But it happens
    Melliane recently posted…Circle of Fire by Keri Arthur

  17. Kim

    Yesssssssss. Just can’t wait to read this one. I really love flawed, complex, “unlikeable” female characters. My one concern is that I don’t like bad guy love interests.

  18. Amanda @ Book Badger

    I’ve heard so many good things about this book, everyone seems to at least enjoy it. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I like my Mythology too, so this book seems to appeal to me more and more. Great Review Kate :D
    Amanda @ Book Badger recently posted…What is New Adult?

    • Kate Bond

      Nyx! I loved Nyx!

      I think a lot of people didn’t see the Cupid and Psyche thing because the Beauty and the Beast thing is in all the advertising, and there are some similarities between those stories?
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  19. starryeyedjen

    I’ve been on a bit of a retelling kick lately, and this one was pretty fabulous. And your review of it is just as gorgeous. I agree…I saw all of those twists coming, but I don’t think the writing is at fault. I don’t think it was as important knowing what was going to happen already as it was discovering how it was going to happen, how all would be revealed. I think that even if you don’t know the stories that served as the inspiration for this novel, there’s still a lot to enjoy, especially the characters. I, too, am waiting impatiently for Gilded Ashes. :)
    starryeyedjen recently posted…The Bookshelves Behind the Bloggers

  20. Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction

    Beautifully done review. I am one of the few that Cruel Beauty didn’t hit as well. I enjoyed it and love the writing but had some obstacles with the MC. I wish I’d been able to connect with the story more and have all the feels I’ve seen others having. Perhaps I’ll have to reread. I’m very curious what Hodge will do next–I’ll be reading it for sure since her creativity and writing are exquisite.
    Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction recently posted…Review of Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

    • Kate Bond

      Kristen, I frequently don’t connect with characters the way other readers do–Cinder is a big example for me. I am REALLY cold on Cinder.

      I think maybe some stuff just isn’t going to be for us, and that’s ok.

      I also think that part of why so many main characters are kind of dull is that when they have too definite a personality, readers stop being able to relate. So maybe that happened to you here? You’re just too different a person to be on board with her stuff?
      Kate Bond recently posted…Discussion: Bookish Pet Peeves

  1. YAuthor Talk: Rosamund Hodge | The Midnight GardenThe Midnight Garden

    […] YAuthor Talk is a monthly feature where we ask our favorite authors 5 random questions just for fun! Join us for bookish musings, crazy tangential conversations, and more. This month we’re featuring Rosamund Hodge, whose debut Cruel Beauty–out tomorrow, 1/28!–Kate called “an exquisitely crafted retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche.” […]