Nyx was raised to marry a monster. She has always known she would marry a beast on her seventeenth birthday. She has been betrothed to the Gentle Lord since the disastrous day her father’s bargain blew up in his face–as bargains with demons generally do.
Nyx has been training for just as long to kill the Gentle Lord and free her people from his curse which surrounds their kingdom. It’s unlikely Nyx will survive this mission. Sometimes she isn’t even sure she will succeed. But isn’t it a worthy goal to die saving her people? Isn’t that something a normal girl without hate coursing through her veins would be eager to do?
As she is dressed and dragged through a sham wedding, Nyx is far from eager.
Inside the Gentle Lord’s castle she expects to find a ravening demon and a heap of ruins. Instead Nyx finds luxurious surroundings and Ignifex–a husband who is an charming as he is infuriating. As she learns more about Ignifex and the strange shadow that follows him everywhere, Nyx is torn between her sense of duty and her sense of what is right. The longer she spends in the castle, the more likely it seems that Nyx has had everything very, very wrong in Cruel Beauty (2014) by Rosamund Hodge.
Cruel Beauty is Hodge’s first novel.
Hodge draws on Greek mythology and fantasy elements to create an enchanting world filled with magic and demons; a world where bargains always have a price.
Nyx is a flawed, selfish heroine. And, given her upbringing, understandably so. She is realistic about her own faults as well as the limitations of her surroundings which makes her a very prickly, often angry, narrator. She isn’t always sympathetic but never doubt that she is interesting.
By comparison, Nyx’s new husband Ignifex is decidedly dull. Their romance, such as it is, is never quite as believable as this premise demands.
Ultimately the biggest problem with Cruel Beauty is that the underlying premise feels very seedy. Nyx is meant to seduce Ignifex and then kill him–essentially prostituting herself to save her people. The preoccupation in the first fifty pages with making Nyx look a delectable bride and easy to strip come the wedding night is decidedly uncomfortable.
This story should have a strong heroine and that heroine should be Nyx. She rails against the lot she has been given. She is furious about the societal constraints that have shaped her life. Then she meets her husband and tears open her own dress saying she is desperate for his touch to deflect any consequences from threatening to kill him. It all felt very clumsy and disagreeable.
Aside from the character issues, Hodge works with a lot of source material in Cruel Beauty. There are several references to Greek myths and fairies in this supposed retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Toward the end elements of the legend of Tam Lin also appear. While all of these things are interesting and have the potential to create a wonderful story, together it became a rather jumbled world with a lot of moving parts to follow just to understand the background of the story.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Entwined by Heather Dixon, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White