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Publisher: Balzer + Bray
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Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.I've never made it a secret that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale. You would think most of that love stems from the Disney movie, and while I love the Disney movie, that's untrue. What made Beauty and the Beast such a magical and transformative story to me were Robin McKinley's retellings. She has written two, Beauty and Rose Daughter, and both are wonderful. I consider both among my favorite books of all time, and what makes them, especially Rose Daughter, so magical is the deeper understanding and ownership of the story. Yes, it's still the basic format, but Robin McKinley makes the story her own, making her characters deeper and their journeys more than just learning to love. I love Cruel Beauty for this same reason. Again, the basic story elements are present, but Rosamund Hodge takes complete ownership over this story. Her Beast and her Beauty are so different from the norm, and their actions seem so out of character for the fairy tale, but it works. It makes for a deep and brutal, yet utterly lovely story.
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.
Nyx Triskelion has been raised knowing she would marry and kill the Gentle Lord, the mysterious man who rules her country and controls the demons that threaten to run rampant. This duty also means she will die. She knows it's her job and she knows she will fulfill it, but she resents everyone--her sister, who is favored by her father and seemingly completely carefree; her father, who refuses to bestow her with love; her aunt, who seems to have attempted to take her deceased mother's place. She knows darkness lingers in her heart, but also hates her lot in life, knowing her death is her father's choice. But when Nyx arrives at the Gentle Lord's castle, nothing happens as she anticipates. The Lord, named Ignifex, doesn't seem as dark or as evil as she believed him to be. He doesn't try to possess her body, and he is devilishly charming. With this, Nyx is torn between her growing attraction to Ignifex--a hope that her life could be different than she always believed--and her duty, tied with knowledge that she needs to save her people.
The story is one that is all-consuming, pushing you into the world headfirst and forcing you to gain your bearings quickly. Once that happens, you are enthralled by Nyx's unexpected personality and darkness and charmed by Ignifex's surprisingly un-beastly manners and his struggles. Their personalities complement one another, and theirs is a relationship born out of mutual knowledge of the other, with no pretensions or falsity.
The mix of Beauty and the Beast and myth is just wonderful, and Hodge does a good job making the fairy tale into a mythic story, with the trickiness and caprice of the gods showing through. The writing itself is also quite lovely, though never especially flowery. It fits the story perfectly.
I would say that the ending is a bit confusing, with a lot happening in one quick burst, and it's hard to understand just exactly what went on to form the resolution. That's not to say you won't get the gist of the ending, but it might not perfectly make sense--and maybe that's intentional. To be comprehended but not understood. This entire world is a complicated one, though, and I'm rather in awe of Rosamund Hodge for coming up with it to begin with.
What makes this story unique, aside from what I mentioned before, is that the characters aren't necessarily likable. They're not righteous or humble or even kind, but they're real. Each character has their good sides but also their bad sides, and that's what makes you root for them all the way through. Cruel Beauty is a standout amongst retellings, and a new favorite of mine.
About the author:
I love mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. My debut novel, CRUEL BEAUTY (a YA fairytale fantasy, where Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast), is due out from Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins in Winter 2014.