The Slow Start That Almost Left Me Wanting More:
Let me warn you, dear reader, that Cruel Beauty starts slowly. Hodge starts out with world building in a big way. For about a hundred pages, Cruel Beauty infodumps world building on your head. Were it not for Hodge’s incredibly gorgeous prose, I might have considered DNFing. As it was, the Greek mythology, fairy tale elements and the writing didn’t make that possible, but I was still concerned. However, once the sheer information overload ceases, Cruel Beauty becomes incredibly impressive.
What I Loved Unreservedly:
Though I remain fuzzy on some of the elements of the world building, I’m certainly fascinated by it. Hodge seems to have developed an alternate history spinning off of Ancient Greece, one in which the gods and goddesses are all real. Within this scope, a demon has subjugated the land of Arcadia, where the heroine lives. The Gentle Lord encased Arcadia within a parchment dome and occasionally sics his demons on the populace. Characters hearken back to Greek mythology or to Greek dramas.
Hodge gets the tone of Cruel Beauty perfect. This book has the darkness of original fairy tales and the brightness too, the fickleness and unreliability of the Greek pantheon, and the family drama of the Greek classics. Everything is confusing and mired in shadow. As you read, you’ll find yourself constantly questioning what is real and what is illusion. References to Greek mythology and fairy tales are littered throughout the pages of Cruel Beauty for the discerning eye to admire. From a technical standpoint, I marvel at the complexities, even if I can’t appreciate them all on the first read through.
Two elements made Cruel Beauty a success with me on an emotional level. First, the heroine. Nyx endears herself to me by reason of her not being especially likable. With Cruel Beauty being in some measure a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, you might be expecting someone like the Belle of the Disney movie. In fact, Nyx is the “wicked sister,” the one who, in a classic tale, would not get the love of a prince, but would end unhappily destroyed by her own evil. Nyx has poison in her heart and on her tongue. She struggles to tamp down the hate inside her, desperate for someone to care but also constantly pushing them away. She’s angry and mean and entirely herself.
The other aspect I love wholeheartedly is the romance. The love triangle between Nyx, Ignifex, and Shade is one of the few that really works. The romance with Ignifex really makes me feel all the feels. For one thing, there’s again this darkness to the main characters of this fairy tale. They may be living in a fairy tale, but they’re full of the tragic flaws of Greek tragedies. The reason that I so entirely love this romance is that the love comes slowly, and that, for all that Nyx and Ignifex are messed up creatures, it’s so healthy. They fall in love with each other as they truly are, not with idealized versions of one another. He loves the poison in her heart, just as she comes to love his bad aspects. It’s not love in spite of the negative parts of their personalities, but because of everything that makes them who they are. SO MUCH YES TO THIS.
The Final Verdict:
Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty is a complex, magical, ornate story which will charm the patient reader. It’s a work that bears more than one exploration, and which will no doubt improve upon further inspection. If you enjoy Greek mythology, tragedies or the original, bloody fairy tales, do not miss Cruel Beauty.
This sounds like such an amazing book. And it seems like something that would make me think when i read it.