Thursday, April 17, 2014

Beauty So Sharp It Hurts

Published:  January 28th, 2014
Cruel Beauty (Cruel Beauty Universe)
By: Rosamund Hodge
Balzar + Bray
ISBN-13:  9780062224736

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.


     Nyx has spent her entire life feeling like an outsider in her family.  Since birth, she's been promised to marry the Gentle Lord, a demon who took over the kingdom of Arcadia nine-hundred years ago, in exchange for him making it so her parents could conceive her and her twin sister.  Nyx loves her sister, but resents her, their aunt and their father for not trying to save her from the deal.  Instead, Nyx is trained to kill Ignifex and free them all from a life of being sealed off from the rest of the world.  On her seventeenth birthday they marry, and Nyx goes to live in Ignifex's castle.  Nothing is as easy as it seemed though, and Nyx finds herself sympathizing with her husband and wanting to understand him better.  In a castle that is little better than a winding maze, surrounded by servants with their own agendas (especially the mysterious Shade, who is a victim of Ignifex), with demons in closed off rooms, and Gods overseeing the whole mess as it unfolds, Nyx is soon confusingly happier than she has ever been.  Can she bring herself to kill Ignifex and free her people?  Or will she choose her own happy ending instead?  And what if there is a way to subvert the entire problem?
     Wow!  This book was definitely what I look for in a fairy tale retelling.  My favorite things in such a book are superior world building, relatable and developed characters, and a detailed plot.  This book has all of those things going for it!  After all, why read the same story, retold the same way each time?  There has to be something special to set it apart, especially something as overdone as Beauty and the Beast.  This ended up having elements of Greek Mythology, in the form of demons from Tartarus, the Gods playing with mortals, the enchanted castle of Beauty and the Beast, the many murdered wives of Bluebeard, and even some of the real world tradition of more ancient times.  It was definitely an interesting mix and I enjoyed seeing it all woven together, especially the thing with the hearts of the elements in the castle.  Also, the idea of destroying the castle and the Gentle Lord, along with the way it plays into the overall fate of Arcadia was masterful!  It definitely took a turn that I was NOT expecting at all near the end of the book!
     The characters definitely drew me in to the story, made me care about them, and get pissed off at them respectively.  I loved Nyx and totally sympathized with her.  She always felt like an outsider in her family, like none of them really wanted her.  And who could blame her, as she is basically raised to be expendable?  And she believes she was chosen to die because her sister looks more like their dead Mother.  Talk about hurting on the inside!  I also loved the fact that Ignifex strikes bargains with people.  The fact that he thinks that everyone who sees him deserves what they get tells you just how bitter, and removed from humanity he initially is at the start of the story.  It's a prime example of "be careful what you wish for."  The loopholes in people's wishes are used to twist their wishes around, and destroy them.  Nyx is horrified by this, but Ignifex is unapologetic.  The dialogue between the two is full of tension and underlying chemistry, and the snark is absolutely wonderful!  I definitely had some laugh out loud moments while reading this.  It's a little slow going at first, but once the action starts, the story moves really fast.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and I highly recommend it to fans of fairy tales, original or retold.  Probably my biggest confusion was with the magic-ish Hermetic Arts, which Nyx was supposed to use to kill Ignifex.  I won't say anymore, because I don't want to spoil the plot twists that happen near the end.  But fans of happy endings don't despair.  Rosamund Hodge gives you a decisively happy ending to this story! :D

VERDICT:  4.5/5 Stars

*I received this book from Balzar + Bray, on Edelweiss.  No favors or money were exchanged for this review.  This book was published on January 28th, 2014.*

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