Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is a retelling of the classic fairytale, Beauty and the Beast. It follows a young girl, Nyx, who was raised to be the killer of a demon called the Gentle Lord who torments her world and killed her mother. She is forced to marry him by her father who keeps her twin sister safe at home in his palace. The Gentle Lord tricks people into bargains and if you watch Once Upon A Time, you know that all magic comes with a price. But there is other life in her gilded prison than just Ignifex, her husband. A shadow moves and he may be her only hope to kill her husband and free her world of his reign.
This was such a cover bait and switch. I adore the cover simply because it is beautiful. However, it has no relevant meaning to the actual plot. No staircases. No roses (but the cover led me to expect one like the movie). That is sort of the first strike with me. I hate irrelevant covers since all they do is draw the eye but provide no real substance. I mean, is it *that* hard to incorporate elements of the story into the cover? There could have been a heart here or a ballroom or anything but what is actually here. Badly done.
So First Strike, the cover. Second Strike...
What I expected out of this book:
Maybe I was a bit naive. I wanted a beautiful love story where a girl sacrifices herself to save her family and her kingdom out of the goodness of her heart and discovers that there is a wonderful man hidden behind the beast. I would have even enjoyed it if the author had explored a bit of Stockholm Syndrome or even broadened the "Lumiere" role from the movie into a deep and interesting character. I went into this craving a slow burn romance where they both struggle with their new affections but desperately want to do what is right. It could have been a beautiful book but...
What I got out of this book:
So much angst. I can understand a lot of it to be honest though. I mean, her father does sacrifice her to be the bride of a demon so that she can make up for his mistakes. I can see why Nyx would be resentful and angry about things. But that doesn't have to be the whole book.
Also, Nyx is supposed to be the assassin of a demon. Now, you would think that logically that would lead to her having some sort of productive training in some of the kick ass arts. Maybe poisons or how to use a knife or something. She would have been as prepared as possible going into this situation. Is that what happened? No. All her life she has been taught to draw 4 symbols over and over until she can do it without thinking. She can also find them when they are hidden in other drawings.
Of all the silly things to bring down an evil demon, flipping scribbles are his kryptonite? Ridiculous. Give the poor girl some practical skills instead of training her to doodle. It was the silliest weakness that I have ever heard of and for it to be the real flaw for Ignifex just made my blood boil.
Another problem I had with Nyx was the insta-love. She pretty much immediately trusts a weird shadow on the wall and within a very short time span, is following him around the castle like a cow off her feed.
Come on girl! He is the employee of a demon! Shouldn't you have a little bit better sense of self-preservation and be at least a little bit cautious? She then quickly switches sides and decides that maybe her captor that has basically ignored her this entire time is the one she should be devoting her life to. Talk about whiplash. She pretty much goes from zero to sixty with him and it made very little sense. One second, she wanted to kill him. The next, not so much.
My last bone to pick with Nyx and then I'll move on. She is easily swayed. She never questions her fate. Sure, she is mad about it but she never tries to take things into her own hands. Her sister is able to manipulate her. Her father manipulates her. Shade manipulates her. Ignifex freaking owns her. She is like playdoh and whoever is "handling" her at that point is the one that she is agreeing with. Nyx really wasn't much of a character, overall.
I adore the name. It sounds so evil and wonderful and you expect someone truly mad to go along with it. Is that what we get? No. He is instead the laziest bad guy I have ever read. He lounges around all day waiting for someone to try to make a bargain with him. If he were truly bad, he would be out roaming the countryside making offers to people of bargains or actively trying to ruin peoples' lives. Or, if he were in some way good, he would be out trying to subvert the evil in the world and he would at least be busy some of the time. Every time we encounter him though, he isn't doing a damn thing.
So his fatal flaw is really laziness instead of those hearts.
And Nyx's flaw of self loathing and jealousy at first makes you sympathetic but after a while, you just get sick of it. Stop talking about your family problems and get something done.
Look, I understand that retellings can be tough in many ways. I once had to write 2 for a creative writing project and half of the problem is that the story line is already there and it is very difficult to change preconceived notions about the plot. You have to make your story different enough for it to be unique but still true to the original story. I could have read this story without it being associated with Beauty and the Beast and I probably would have approached it better. It is one of my favorite fairytales and I feel like I had some pretty high expectations for it. This book utterly fell flat.
There was far too much emphasis on world building and ceremonies. There were quite a few info dumps and I just couldn't get into all of the tradition and rules. It felt like the author was trying too hard to cram a lot of information into a small book. The gods and wine pouring ceremonies just weren't necessary to the plot. Too many details, too much going on and too much emphasis on what the world was like instead of the characters.
If your characters and plot are strong, then the world will build itself. Like the Harry Potter books and Lord of the Rings, there is a time and a place for explanation but it has to be done sparsely and concisely so that you can hang onto your readers. A lot of this may have been solved by a map or simply better descriptions. Things frequently got over-explained. Editing could have been better for this and the idea of "Don't tell me, show me" got overlooked.
Overall, I really did not like this book, mostly because I found myself rolling my eyes throughout it. I didn't enjoy the plot, the main character was just a silly little girl and the danger was never real in my eyes. The world building was far too complicated and I wanted at least one strong character to crop up. That never happened.