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?
“I do like a wife with a little malice in her heart.”
Nyx has known all her life she will die for family and country. Armed with the security of this and all the ancient knowledge of the magical laws that govern her land, she is ready when the day comes to face her destiny: her wedding day.
But marriage to the beast of a lord isn’t at all what Nyx has been warned about. Ignifex is cunning and malicious, true, but these aren’t the flaws of the wicked she has spent a lifetime in training to end. All too soon it becomes clear that if Nyx truly wishes to be a hero, it might be worth finding out more about what she’s been fated to save.
Regardless of all its vicious intent, Cruel Beauty was not without charm. This was an ambitious undertaking—lush with intrigue, imagery, and a detailed world and history—and I can only be impressed by how well author Rosamund Hodge did in braiding the barest of details from such varying mythology and lore around the story she wanted to tell.
Even more, I was floored by the formation of her characters. Where usually reviewers would praise authors for taking care to leave every figure at least one redeemable quality, here the opposite is true: Hodge is sure to spotlight the poison at the heart of each personality, and further than that, she makes the reader sympathize. Everybody hates. Everybody’s a monster.
Yes. YES, I say.
That’s not to imply that the characters are evil or without positive qualities, but I can’t say that there are any pure of heart here, and I’m glad. I’ve never been one for the martyr or unquestioned hero.
That being said, this is not a tale without faults of its own.
I loved Nyx, but we didn’t even get to see one thorough, carefully plotted assassination attempt before the romantic elements were introduced—elements which left me with a bit of a case of whiplash, to be honest. I wasn’t even really out the gate and already the protagonist was throwing the word “love” around. This is not what I showed up to the party for. The summary told a tale of danger, and I keep being promised novels about female assassins . . . who fail to kill anyone. Even as I came to understand the direction this story was taking, I admit there was disappointment.
This book is Beauty and the Beast. This is the tale of Bluebeard. This is Rumpelstiltskin. This is Cupid and Psyche. This is Sparta. This is so many other bits and pieces of Greek/Roman mythology that I can’t even begin to name them all.
The line between fantasy and detailed, researched fact can be a fine one to walk, and much of this book straddled it with unflinching grace. Set in an imagined offshoot of Greek history, many of the folktales and rituals reflected so, but eventually it all became too much. There were so many ancient names dropped and stories inserted that they became white noise, and when thematically applicable myths were discussed, I didn’t realize I was to take note or apply them to my reading until their purpose was revealed.
The high fantasy elements of the world, sadly, overreached. Hodge tried to create an intricate system to replace the laws of physics, and I did see where she wanted to go. I think she just didn’t give herself enough time to get there, and I understood very little of the sorcery’s workings. It reached the point where when I didn’t comprehend, I could just write it off as, “Oh, right. Magic.” It required some forced suspension of belief, but it made the book much more enjoyable than had I wasted time rereading the passages for some semblance of coherency.
All in all, this was an extravagant read which overdosed and unfortunately became somewhat difficult to follow. Hodge shows promise in so many areas, but moving into the future it will be necessary for her to separate them or, at the very least, grant herself more time to complete such a project.
Is it still worth reading? Maybe. Go into this looking for rich world-building, lovable but unsavory characters, and nods to many of your favourite childhood tales. Do not expect to understand what you just handed your two hours over to.