Hello everyone, and welcome back!
Today I have a very lukewarm take on yet another fairy tale retelling. (Well, this one came out in 2014, so maybe yet another isn’t quite accurate; this would have been nearer to the beginning of the trend.) On the bright side, I’ve finally read one of those books from an old TBR. Let’s tackle this one from the backlist, shall we?
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
This is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, as you might imagine from the title. Its altered premise is that Nyx (Beauty) is the daughter of a man who made a deal with Ignifex (Beast), the ruler of demons and prince of bargains.
The price of the deal is that Nyx must marry Ignifex when she comes of age, a sacrifice that Nyx is obviously pretty bitter about, since the rest of her family gets to chill at home while she marries some unknowable demon guy. She also spends her life training to wreck the magic that gives Ignifex’s castle a hold over their kingdom, only she knows that to break it would mean sacrificing herself. So yeah: max bitter. If you like your heroines bitter, you may enjoy Nyx.
The premise that the Beast is a demon lord who makes tricky bargains with people but yet is also the love interest will probably intrigue you more if you’ve never seen Once Upon a Time, but if you have (and are aware that it began in 2011), this book might feel like a bit of a rip-off. I feel like I might have appreciated this book more for inventiveness had I not been an early Once viewer.
Also: Back in the day, I read a steamy Once fanfic that was basically this book but not YA (where Belle was the price of a bargain and had to marry the Dark One), so maybe this book will appeal to you a lot more if you don’t feel like Nyx/Ignifex is just early Belle/Rumple lite.
The pros of Cruel Beauty: This is a retelling that doesn’t forget where it came from. It has stories within the story, some gorgeous magical descriptions, rhymes and riddles, a search for a true name, a mysterious castle, magical beings with unknown motives, the whole nine yards. Also, the message that people who aren’t “pure of heart” (aka bitter-as-day-old-coffee Nyx) can be kind and deserving of love is nice, I think? It’s not something you get a lot in fairy tales, but it is something you get a lot in YA, so I don’t think it came off as groundbreaking to me as maybe it did to some others, but your mileage may vary.
The cons of Cruel Beauty: Basically everything in this book falls apart if you squint at it too hard. The stories and legends it builds up to tie together to make the plot work are only loosely explained and the wibbly-wobbly logic of the way magic works just…exists to move the story forward. Twists don’t feel as “twisty” because it feels as if each plot point is just “yeah, okay, I guess,” because magic can do anything the author wants. In other cases, twists don’t feel twisty because of how horribly obvious they are. It feels like there’s not much balance between “welp when will they figure that out?” and “sure whatever ~magic~,” which is frustrating.
The characters seem to love each other or don’t about as much as each scene demands. (It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of romance building in this one; Nyx basically loves or lusts at first sight, and so do her romantic interests.) As a result, I was direly uninterested in every relationship, including the Nyx/Ignifex relationship, which is essentially the one thing I needed to be interested in.
So: This book didn’t offend me and I finished it reasonably easily; the magical feel and descriptions of some magical things were neat, but everything else fell flat and felt pretty unengaging, to be totally honest with you. I kept waiting to care about someone in this book.
I’m surprised this was so hyped by some reviewers. Maybe it’s because I felt a little like this was diet Once fanfic and it coloured my perceptions, but…just nah. I’d try this author again in a different series because I feel like the writing was quite pretty in some ways, but plot and character were just too up in the air to really appreciate it here.
What’s your favourite of the fairy tale retellings? Do you like your heroines bitter as dandelion or more of a watery butter lettuce? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!