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Saturday, June 14, 2014

{Book Review} CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty COVERCruel Beauty
By Rosamund Hodge
Published: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Balzer & Bray, a Harper Collins Imprint
Length: 342 pages
Source: Owned
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.

If there is one thing that any of my friends would tell you, it's that I adore Beauty and the Beast. It didn't start with the Disney film for me, but with a retelling of it by Robin McKinley called Beauty. I found a tattered copy in my school library. I kept renewing it for a month. My mom and I scoured bookstores looking for it and it was out of print. I went to the librarian at school and LIED. I outright lied. I said I couldn't find the book and I would need to pay for it and its replacement. I paid the fine and kept that book and treasured it.

So you can guess that I was VERY intrigued by this book and wanted to read it as soon as I could! Before I get into gushing about it, let me talk about the one thing I didn't like. I don't consider myself a picky reader, but misused or lacking punctuation drives me up a wall. I was a bit appalled that this book was from Harper Collins and the proofreading/editing for simple punctuation was not up to my standards. It wasn't dreadfully horrible, but it was noticeable.

Now the book! While it did not unseat Beauty by Robin McKinley as my most favorite version of this fairy tale, Cruel Beauty comes in a close second. At the core is this wonderfully heartfelt story that is bathed in light and humanity. But to get to that core, we must delve into the darkness and acknowledge that the worst darkness comes from within.

The story opens with a girl lamenting and upset about her impending marriage; a marriage she has not chosen and one that is supposed to save her people. Nyx is to marry the Gentle Lord.

Nyx Triskelion is "Beauty" in this case and I loved this rendition of "Beauty". Unlike all of the others who have come before her, Nyx isn't completely good. She struggles to be good, but she has so many negative emotions that stem from her childhood. She is a twin and the daughter her father has decided to sacrifice to the Gentle Lord, Lord of Bargains, as a wife.  She's resentful, sad, doesn't feel loved by her family, and is quite angry at the role that's been forced upon her. She blames her dead mother for not being able to bear children, she hates her sister for constantly being happy and adored by their father, she abhors her aunt who has slipped into their father's bed, and she's livid that she is to be sacrificed as a wife to the Prince of Demons. For her entire life, she's been told she will avenge her mother's death, save her people, and to lie to her twin sister, the one who is adored and showered with affection, so as to protect her from the truths in the world.

What she doesn't expect is that her husband is strangely charming and more human than she dared imagine the Prince of Demons to be. She grew up in a world where you are warned not to stare into shadow as something might look back, where her father has used his basic magic skills to try to cure those demon-afflicted, and where the entire society blames Ignifex for the Sundering. She learns that there is more to the world than black and white. She learns that her people, whom she is destined to save, have no idea of the truths behind their pieced together stories.

I loved the Greek mythology that Rosamund Hodge has wound into this fairy tale. Stories of Hermes and Aphrodite and other gods play a keen role throughout and add layers of complexity to this retelling. Nyx is educated enough to know the scholarly stories and it is these stories that help her. Ignifex is ignorant of who he used to be. His shadow, Shade, knows but is forbidden to tell. Instead of asking Nyx to marry him every night, as it was in the tale I read before, Ignifex has a different riddle. She can guess his name. If she gets it right, all will be freed. If she gets it wrong, it's death for her.
The verbal play between Nyx and Ignifex will make you smile. The "insta-love" is not my favorite, even the insta-lust. Nyx goes from being angry and upset to kissing Shade. And soon, she is kissing Ignifex. Within days, there is a declaration of love and this swelling of emotion. Romantic, but I would've liked it to drag out a bit. *shrugs* Personal preference, but it didn't detract from the story for me.
I could go on and on and rave about this book, but I'm hoping you'll pick it up and read it. I think Ms Hodge has created a wonderful alternate to the standard Beauty & the Beast tale and it's one that many will enjoy. From a house that is constantly changing to mythology that fleshes out the story to a devilishly handsome prince and an intrepid young maiden whose heart is not pure, this was an enjoyable read that has earned a place on my re-readable shelf!


When my older brother was thirteen, he started a writing club with his friends and wouldn’t let me join because I was only eight. I promptly swore that I would become a writer and make him sorry.

He still isn’t sorry. (I checked.) But in 2014 I will publish my first novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, so I guess everything worked out okay.

Some other facts about me:

• I practice Shorinji Kempo, a Japanese martial art based on Shaolin Kung Fu.

• Cruel Beauty is my debut novel, but it is somewhere between the third and sixth that I ever completed, depending on how you count things. (There was the 40,000-word mess I called a novel when I was sixteen, and the 220,000-word mess I briefly pretended was a single novel in 2009.)

• NaNoWriMo changed my life and got me finishing novels again after a long hiatus. But Cruel Beauty is not a NaNoWriMo novel. (The NaNoWriMo project that changed everything was the 220,000-word mess. Someday I may even revise it.)

• I grew up as a homeschooler in Los Angeles, and I spent my childhood marinating in Greek mythology, which is where all the Greek elements in Cruel Beauty come from.

• Then I got a B.A. in English at the University of Dallas, and an M.St. in Medieval English at Oxford. Naturally, I moved to Seattle and got a job with computers.

• I have studied five languages (Spanish, French, Latin, Old Norse, and Japanese), though sadly I am still not able to speak any of them.

• I love some things more than T. S. Eliot’s poetry. But not many things.

• I am represented by Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates.

-- from the author's bio at her website:

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