Monday, January 27, 2014

Review: Cruel Beauty


Cruel BeautyAuthor: Rosamund Hodge
Series: Standalone
Published: January 28th 2014
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Source: Publisher for review
Buy: The Book Depository

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.
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.
Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel, Cruel Beauty, is a bold and imaginative retelling of Beauty and the Beast. With this highly ambitious book, Hodge attempted to take the wildly popular retellings one step further, mostly by making the connections between Cruel Beauty and the original story very loose, and wrapping what was left into much violence and darkness in her richly imaginative world. Consequently, we’re left with no more than a few vague similarities between Beauty and the Beast and Cruel Beauty, just enough to justify calling this a retelling at all.

Nyx, for one, is nothing at all like Belle. She is hateful and stubborn, quick to lash out at those she should aim to protect. I suspect some readers might find her less than endearing, and that’s putting it mildly, but I wasn’t troubled by her anger or her actions. In fact, her rage was the only thing about her I was able to fully understand, the injustice of her life from the moment she was born a constant burning sensation in my throat. It was obvious that Hodge strived to make her characters endlessly complex, but Nyx is the only one with whom she actually succeeded. The secondary characters, Nyx’s father and aunt in particular, were two-dimensional, archetypal and utterly predictable.

There’s no denying the lushness and elegance of Rosamund Hodge’s prose. Her writing is a thing of beauty, atmospheric, gorgeous and alluring. Yet oftentimes, the tenor of the prose prevented me from immersing in the story or caring about the characters. While I enjoyed her words, put together so prettily, I also found them to be emotionally sterile. Nothing about them felt real or emotional or visceral or true. Dark, twisted and beautiful Cruel Beauty may be, but emotionally, it leaves a lot to be desired.

The romance was certainly the part I liked best, Nyx’s moral dilemma making it more interesting and real. My failure to connect with Nyx took away some of my reading enjoyment, but seeing as I liked the Gentle Lord immensely, I found him and their relationship to be the saving grace of this book.

I still haven’t managed to find a retelling I actually liked, so do take my opinion with a grain of salt. I went into this because I was promised lush, atmospheric prose, and that’s what I got, so I shouldn’t complain too hard.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.

29 comments:

  1. I have heard so much about this book already! Can't wait to start reading it. Beauty and the Beast is definitely one of my favorite fairy tales and there have been several retelling attempts in the past. Rosamund Hodge's sounds particularly interesting to me because of the darkness she indulges in her story. I'm excited to review it soon!

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  2. Awww, I am so sad you didn't like this one more Maja!

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  3. I have not read many re-telllings of this one so..there is always hope

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  4. I found myself loving Nyx whole heartedly, glad you did too after some time! The romance was good, but I felt it went a little too fast for me.

    Fab review, Maja! <33

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  5. I think I might end like you with this one. This all sounds great and everything but retellings aren't doing it for me, for whatever reason. I love the sound of Nyx and I'm actually glad she is nothing like Belle. Great review, Maja :)

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  6. Aww, I'm sorry you didn't fall in love with this book (though I have with your review - could you write more beautifully if you tried, Maja?). Like you, I enjoyed this one primarily because of Nyx's anger. It was such a strong and driving emotion I could really get behind, as was her romance with Ignifex. I wasn't a fan of the Shade plot thread, but as a whole this book impressed me. It isn't as beloved as Heart's Blood or Of Beast and Beauty (have you tried those?) but I still enjoyed it immensely. Absolutely gorgeous review, Maja!

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  7. I think I liked it a bit more than you but I definitely agree about the one-dimensional secondary characters. I think if you put Shade and the Gentle Lord together, you might get a more nuanced character (perhaps that was the purpose). I liked Nyx's moral dilemma, though her whining about being "evil" got a bit tedious.

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  8. Great review, Maja!
    I think that if only for the writing, I'll probably read this one. I'm not the biggest fan of retellings, so I'm trying to get myself more into them.

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  9. Awww sorry this one didn't wow you as much as it did me Maja! I'm glad you enjoyed the Gentle Lord at least, I found him to be fascinating. I agree with you on the emotional element, it wasn't a book that ripped my heart out by any means, but I was captivated throughout and that was enough in this particular case. I just loved all the layers to both of them. Your review is gorgeous as usual, you always leave me comments about my writing, but yours is simply stunning:)

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  10. I too think that it had some stretches to be called a retelling but that doesn't mean that it wasn't brillant

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  11. I've been curious about this one and this is the first review I've read. I agree that when you can't connect with a character it takes away from the story. But I'm glad you still managed to find a little bit of good in the story. Great review!

    Janina @ Synchronized Reading

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  12. I'm super curious about this one, Maja. I don't mind a loose retelling, I'm always interested to see what authors can bring to the original story. Sorry that the main character didn't work so well for you, but I think I like that she's not your ordinary MC female-passive, meak, etc.

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  13. I actually really loved this one. I know retellings can be hard but to me they are retellings I go into the book fully expecting it to be different. Nope Nyx is nothing like Belle, I think I am grateful for that but if you really think about it... The disney fairy tales are absolutely nothing like the original Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales that do take on a darker side.

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  14. everyone seems to read this one, no I'm sad I didn't take it to try it. Oh it's intriguing to have a heroine like that, but I'm not sure I would have liked her... I love retellings but it's always tricky, so I don't read a lot of them.

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  15. I was very so-so about this book, although I did like that Nyx was so flawed. The prose was beautiful, but I just didn't connect with the story....

    Kate @ Ex Libris

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  16. OOoh nice review! Retellings can be hit or miss with most readers. I tend to enjoy them myself. Haven't read one--that I can immediately recall--that I didn't enjoy in some aspect.

    I'd recommend the somewhat old(ish) series--this was a series I started as a young teen and it apparently kept going on after I stopped, so I am playing selective catchup with it--that are all fairy tale retellings. I call it a series in the loosest sense of the word, it was called for a time, the Once Upon a Time series. Many different authors would rewrite a fairy tale. I read quite a few of them, then my YA days stopped for awhile and I thought too this series over.

    But anyway, there's quite a few in the series. Check it out on goodreads and they should bring them all up. There's classic tales like Beauty and the Beast--I think there were 2, but I just read 1, called Spirited--Snow White, The 12 Dancing Princesses, Red Riding Hood, The Storyteller's Daughter, Sleeping Beauty...and many more!

    My absolute FAVORITE was Snow by Tracy Lynn! It's a Snow White retelling and I was just amazed with it! It's one that I actually re-read 2-3 times back at the time. AKA the Dark Days--when there was practically no paranormal YA! Scary times, my friend!

    But it's just a series I have been mentioning in some of my comments on the reviews for this one. As most people are liking it, but not all are loving it and they say they struggle with retellings. So I am apt to recommend this old series. As I said, it got picked up again, some years after I stopped and there are more books! You can pick and choose whichever ones you want to read for they are all stand-alones!

    Okay, end of looooong comment! And again, great review!

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  17. I know you aren't a fan of retellings, but you know I am! :) Probably why I enjoyed it so much. I did like how she tweaked the main characters but you are spot on with the secondary characters. I just saw them as something to rebel against and not primary to the plot otherwise. I think that is why they didn't bother me. Hopefully you will find a retelling you will enjoy!

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  18. Beautiful review, Maja. I just wrote mine and I agree about the retelling. I think that actually hurt the book as it became somewhat predictable. It would have been far better to be surprised.

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  19. I love beautiful prose, but it concerns me that it kept you from slipping into the world or connecting with the characters. This was on my wishlist, but I may hold off for a library copy.

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  20. Been hearing some great things about this but wasn't completely convinced. I don't find too many retellings I like either but I love the Beauty and the Beast tale so I might have to give this one a whirl. Lovely review. :)

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  21. Oh, that's a pity you haven't found any retellings you've liked. Retellings are some of my favorite types of stories. I wonder if there are any I've read that I could recommend to you and see you actually enjoying. I'll think on it.
    I'm hoping that this book is everything I want and love in my retellings, but I'll have to keep in mind a few of your criticisms here to see whether they bother me as much.

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  22. I don't know a lot about the original fairy tales, so honestly, I haven't read that many re-tellings. Therefore, that aspect would be fine for me...but it sounds like some of the characters might drive me nuts. haha At any rate, it does seem like an interesting premise.

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  23. I don't often like retellings, but this was one I really did. I actually did feel a lot of emotions while reading it. And I LOVED the romance! I didn't mind her anger either, and I liked how she lashed out. Maybe the banter between them when she was angry was part of that. My issue was that at times I felt a little lost and confused. Especially toward the end. I don't know if it went too fast or if I just read it too quickly, but I felt like I needed to go back and reread that bit to understand what happened.

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  24. I'm glad you liked Cruel Beauty overall as far as a fairy tale re-telling. I pretty much adored this book, and was swooped up by the writing and the romance of it. I loved how Nyx and Ignifex were such imperfect characters, and the push and pull between them. I do agree though that the secondary characters were pretty two-dimensional and disappointing though. Wonderful review, Maja! :)

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  25. I felt that the romance was pretty accurate with the rebelling but I agree the rest was very loosely based. and yay for liking the gentle lord, he was my favorite too, I just wished he didn't have too many versions. Oh, the writing was the best! I'm so glad you enjoyed this book, Maja. Great review!

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  26. I actually didn't really enjoy this one, although I could see many good things in it! I'm glad you did enjoy it, but sorry you didn't absolutely LOVE it like everyone seems to :(

    I really liked Nyx and I thought her anger was pretty understandable as well. It must really suck that you only exist because you need to marry a demon. I thought that part of the novel was really well executed!

    I agree with you on the writing - it was lush and atmosperic! I'm sorry you didn't really feel any emotion behind it. I can understand where you're coming from, though: it could be distancing at times.

    Wonderful review! <3

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  27. I started this last night and I really like Nyx. I would be mad at everyone too and I was kind of hoping she would stab her father on the way lol

    I also enjoy the banter between Nyx and the Gentle Lord but so far I'm not sure where the story is headed. I'm enjoying it but I'm not quite swept away by it either.

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  28. I'm with you...I enjoyed it but wasn't head over heels in love. I also was unable to connect especially to Nyx. I really wanted to get involved with the things that were happening to her but I couldn't. I loved the world building and writing style but it lacked that certain something to make it a 5 star for me. Wonderful review!

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  29. I'm glad you liked it, but also sad that you didn't love it as much as I did. Belle is my favorite character ever, but the fact that Nyx was so different made this book complete to me :D

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