Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Genre: Fiction/ Fantasy/ Romance/ Beauty and the Beast
Source: Goodreads Recommendation
Favourite Quote: “When I was much younger, I sometimes imagined that the sky was an illustration in a book, that we were all nestled safety between the covers, and that if I could only find the book and open it, we would all escape without having to fight the Gentle Lord. I had gotten halfway to believing my fancy when I said to Father one evening, “Suppose the sky is really -” And he asked me if I thought that telling fairy tales would save anyone.”
Craving for another Beauty and the Beast spin off, I found a group on Goodreads that had exactly what I was looking for, one of the highest rated books happened to be Cruel Beauty. It’s quite different from what I was expecting but it had the right key ingredients – a young girl, a corrupted captor and a bit of magic.
The story begins with our protagonist Nyx Triskelion, who introduces the kingdom of Arcadia to be under a 900 year old curse by the evil prince of demons the Gentle Lord that she’s been forcibly chosen to break on her own. Her father made a desperate attempt to save Nyx’s mother by making a foolish bargain with the Gentle Lord, which resulted in her death after Nyx and her sister Astraia were born. The bargain was that he had to give up one of his daughters to the Gentle Lord when she turned 17.
The Resurgandi decided this was a perfect opportunity to destroy the Gentle Lord from inside his castle and instead of her father spending what little time he had with his precious daughter, he trained Nyx for the ultimate battle to defeat the Gentle Lord and the curse that reigned over the kingdom.
With family resentment in her heart, she knew she had to fulfil her duty and marry him. When it came to the day of her wedding, Nyx, with her dagger tucked into her dress, set out to kill their evil ruler.
‘All my life, I’d seen people driven mad by the demons; I’d seen how everyone, weak or strong, rich or poor, lived in fear of them. If I carried out Father’s plan – if I trapped the Gentle Lord and freed Arcadia – nobody would ever be killed or driven mad by a demon again. No fools would make disastrous bargains with the Gentle Lord, and no innocents would pay the price for them. Our people would live free beneath the true sky. Any one of the Resurgandi would gladly die for that chance. If I loved my people, or even just my family, I should be glad to die for it too.’
Nyx thought that she would never see the outside world again and be locked up in the castle forever, little did she know how enchanted the castle and her life were about to become when she stepped through the door. The Gentle Lord was not how she expected, so young and charmingly entrancing, he introduced himself as Ignifex but admitted it wasn’t his real name. Nyx was sure his demeanour was a trick and made several attempts to attack him, but he was always too quick. Instead of punishing her, he found the endeavour to end his life amusing, after all, he’s immortal.
‘”Meanwhile, would you care to dine?” He stood and held out a hand.
I ignored him and stood on my own. The warm delicious scent of cooked meat hit me: sometime during our fight, an enormous roast pig had appeared on the table, its feet reaching up toward the ceiling. Next to it sat a tureen of mock-turtle soup, and all around were platters of fruit, rice, pastries, and roasted dormice.
Ignifex sat down. “If you start wondering how this house works, you’ll likely go mad. That could be amusing, I suppose. Especially if it’s the kind of madness that causes you to run naked through the hallways. Do feel free to indulge in that anytime.”
I clenched my teeth as I sat back down at the table. Outrageous though it was, his chatter was curiously comforting: because as long as he was babbling at me, he wasn’t doing anything.’
Ignifex uses his shadow, Shade, to take Nyx around the castle. A being that is a shadow during the day and a physical being at night. Nyx realises quickly that he is also a prisoner and takes the opportunity to form an ally with him. He shows her the beauty and weakness of the castle’s enchantments as each room the go into changes to something incredible. Nyx knows the way to break the curse lies within the secrets of the castle, most doors are locked with the keys located in Ignifex’s jacket, the only way to get them is to spend time getting close to him. She attempts to seduce him in order to sneak a key away which only causes her to get frustrated as her feelings for him grow even more confusing.
‘”Well, that’s a pity.” He leaned toward me. His collarbone was damp, and I realised suddenly that my dress still clung to me in pale, damp folds. “Because I had just been thinking of ways you could make it up to me.”
He touched my chin with a finger. The air was still and hot in my throat.
Abruptly his hand dipped down to pull the key out of my bodice. He twirled it as he sat back, laughing, then hung it on one of the belts strapped across his chest.
“You -” I chocked out. Then I lunged at his throat.
He blocked me easily with one arm, but we both tumbled over; he landed on his back with me on top of him.
“You see?” he said. “Not at all a good assassin.”
“Shut up,” I snarled, and stopped his mouth with a kiss.
I stunned him for only a moment; then he locked his arms around me and kissed me back as fiercely as the sunlight beating down on my back.’
With her feelings for Ignifex becoming more bewildering, she soon begins to feel like her entire life has flipped on it’s side. For the first time, someone can see her for who she really is, for the first time she is not relied upon to do her duty, and for the first time, she understands what it’s like for someone to care about her. Does she stay with Ignifex and live forever has his wife, or does she fulfil her purpose and destroy him to save Arcadia?
I really did enjoy the story and the characters, although I felt it was missing something. There was too much unimportant information surrounding the story when trying to explain the different rules of Arcadia, the past that people have forgotten and a bit too many greek tales, only a few which are relevant. I felt the author tried to make the story more complicated than it had to be. Sometimes the story was easy to read, other times I had to go back and re-read through a bunch of segments about how the elements worked or the powers of Hermetic.
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
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? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.