Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Reading Level: Young Adult, 13+
Pages: 352 (ARC)
Source: From Publisher For Review
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.
It's no secret that I am a sucker for fairytale re-tellings and Beauty and the Beast is my favorite story to be retold. These retellings can get really deep and intense when done right. And CRUEL BEAUTY does not disappoint at all in this category. Seriously, it was so close to perfection that I have no idea how I can write this review. I'm 99% tempted to just keyboard smash and go OMGIGNIFEX over and over and over.
In the very beginning of this book, I had a little bit of trouble getting into it. Hodge suffers from a small case of telling and not showing. There's an insane amount of world-building and history in the beginning and the stories that she shared in order to bring these tales to life were fascinating. But each story was literally introduced with something along the lines of "this is how the story goes". I got sick of this form of info-dumping really fast. Luckily for me, after the initial world-building was out of the way (in a writing style full of beautiful imagery, I might add) this was no longer a problem and my issue of being disconnected from the novel quickly faded as the relationships explored in the novel began to fascinate me.
Everyone in this novel, and I mean everyone, is messed up. They've all got issues. Seriously, if an entire society or cast of characters belongs in a psych ward, this would be it. But, damn, did I love it. The sheer complexity brought to each character is absolutely absurd because nobody is what they seem on the surface. A common theme in this story is that there is wickedness and cruelty beneath nearly everything, it is simply outwardly visible in some more than others. This exploration of cruelty and wickedness shows that there is beauty in malice, and I loved this unique plot point. There seriously is beauty in malice. Who would have thunk it? I never would have thought it until Hodge convinced me of this.
But back to the beautiful characterization.
Our main character is among my favorite of all time. Nyx has lived a really complicated life full of negativity and hatred because of the fact that she was meant to be sacrificed to save her father's domain. Her destiny must be fulfilled and the fate of the world was literally riding on her shoulders. You can only imagine her upbringing--no love and compassion, but strict teaching and coldness so nobody would get attached to the wicked creature who would inevitably cease to exist mere days after her marriage on her seventeenth birthday. Because of this, it was surprisingly wonderful to see the few times her heart swelled beneath her tough and wicked exterior. It was not often, but it was heartwarming.
And the funny thing is that, like any Beauty and the Beast retelling, we do have romance in this one. Somehow buried way, way deep in the plot, it eventually grows to be all-consuming with the type of slow-burn that makes any girl swoon. Our prickly, impulsive heroine in love? No way!
When Nyx is married off to the Gentle Lord, a demon who can take the shape of a human, she expects to be dead by evening. What she does not expect is for a love triangle of epic proportions to ensue. I hate love triangles, but it's impossible to resist a love triangle done right. And while this is sickly twisted and broody and dark, this is a love triangle done perfectly and some other authors need to take serious note. We have Ignifex, the lord to which she is married who is surprisingly deep though incredibly forgetful despite the fact that his wickedness is even more pronounced then Nyx's. If there was a king of mind-fuckery and evilness, it would be him. And, boy, did I love him for it. It's hard to find a twisted, deep, caring yet cruel villain that can somehow make a superb hero all the same. Hodge managed to do just that. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Shade, the poor soul enslaved for nearly one thousand years by Ignifex to do his bidding. Shade has knowledge that Ignifex does not, knowledge that can alter the very world that Nyx lives in, but is unable to share it because of supernatural forces. Where Ignifex is forgetful and hard, Shade is intelligent and gentle, and Nyx can't help but be drawn to these two completely different entities that are cruel in their own ways.
Hodge's beautifully dark writing and twisted, masterful storytelling takes you on the ride of a lifetime with this one. Though it left me with a few questions, my initial woes were completely forgotten because I found the overarching tales to be so engrossing. With one of my favorite casts ever--heroes, villains, and anti-heroes alike--I think I may have found a new favorite world and author. With her debut novel Hodge presents herself as a force to be reckoned with, and I seriously recommend giving this book a chance. If you are at all a fan of dark, gritty reads like myself, I forbid you to not give this one a try.
FTC Disclaimer: I did not receive any form of compensation in exchange for my honest review.