Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

“They said that love was terrifying and tender, wild and sweet, and none of it made any sense. 

But now I knew that every mad word was true.”

After the release of the live action Beauty and the Beast film staring Emma Watson about a month ago, I’ve been searching for other retellings to satisfy my renewed interest in the classic. I’ve seen this book various times on social media— often being compared to one of those “if you liked this popular YA book, then you might enjoy this one” types of commentaries. So a year later, I decided to give Rosamund Hodge a try.

Cruel Beauty is set against a Greco-Roman background but instead of deriving from the eighth century BC, it is geared more towards the eighteenth century. Nyx, our narrator, has forever been engaged to marry the demon lord who rules over her village. A bargain had been struck from before she was even conceived, allotting that one daughter of the bargainer’s offspring must be given to the demon to be his betrothed when she is of age. And even though Nyx is a twin to a beautiful and charismatic sister, it had always been her that was chained to this dark destiny. We follow our heroine throughout this story as she navigates into her husband’s palace, searching for clues to unbind him from his curse and free her people from demonic enslavement.

I’ve heard many people rave about this book and even compare it to one of my favorite tales, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, but unfortunately I didn’t experience the same thrill. I’m actually a bit disappointed, because while I enjoyed certain aspects there was plenty that I felt could have been further explained or revisited to make the plot seem stronger and the characters less vague.

For starters, we have our main protagonist Nyx. I love her name and thought it was fitting because Nyx in Greek mythology is the daughter of Chaos and the personification of night. She was interesting to read during the first section of the story before going to the palace. In that part, I found her inner conflict very relatable: is it right to hate someone for something they have no control over? Especially a family member? Nyx seemed like a character with grey morals and appropriate inquires for someone her age/ in her position… which is amazing considering I’ve read books on the contrary that drove me mad! But once she is finally placed in a different setting outside of her village, her character seemed to…deflate? (I can think of no better word, honestly.) Sure, she is more sarcastic and witty. But then again, so was Ignifex— her main love interest and the adaption of the “Beast.” I felt as though half of what I wound up reading was mindless banter between the two of them with no real plot or revelations. And not for nothing, but when I say that the characters started to blur with one another, I quite literally mean that. There is a character who may or may not be another character just wearing different flesh. So overall, the narrative was making me aggravated after a while.

The writing was nice, however it did lag on a bit during certain scenes. I realize that inner monologue is wonderful to have when faced with a complex character, but if I feel as though the questions being brought up by the protagonist were becoming overly frequent or obvious. Most of the acton throughout the book was spent searching for four elemental “keys” of a sort, but naturally we don’t get anywhere until the very last pages of the book. And even then I still had so many questions that were left completely unanswered. The magic system confused me, the love interests felt forced, and the plot twists didn’t entirely seem to make sense? I wondered if it was just me being too obtuse, but after going back to re-read some chapters I still find these problems unattended to.

While supposedly being a Beauty and the Beast retelling, we honestly could have gone without the romance and the book might have even been more pleasant to read. Yes, there is a love triangle of sorts. I won’t spoil much, but this particular triangle is later explained to be something else, but for three-fourths of the story you are led to believe that two men are in love with the same women who doesn’t know who to meld her soul with. I also didn’t find either relationship compatible, but that’s likely because I didn’t necessarily enjoy any of these characters enough to want to see them together.
The more I write this review, the more issues I seem to realize I had with the book. So I will just leave it at this. I did enjoy the Greek mythology portions, and I found the sibling relationship to be relatable, but other than that I’m too confused about so much that I can’t say else about the pros of the story. Hopefully if you decide to give this one a shot you’ll have a better time with it than I did.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars.

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