Cruel Beauty: Pure Love or Wicked Love?

Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My Summary:
Nyx is trained from childhood to take down her future husband, the Demon Lord of Bargains, who holds the kingdom of Arcadia captive and offered the bargain that stole her mother’s life. Knowing the mission will cost her own life, she grows to resent the people around her, who are allowed to be happy. Nyx faces her fate squarely, but neither her husband, nor his servant, nor the house they live in are what they appear to be. She starts to fall for her husband’s tranquil servant, a shadow who desires to help her but is unable to lend much assistance. The lines between hate and love blur as Nyx realizes that the resentment and selfishness in her own heart are not so different from the quick-witted wickedness of her doomed husband, and that he may be the only person who does not ask anything of her. In the end, the fate of the world rests upon the choice of embracing pure love or wicked love, who to betray, and whether once-in-a-lifetime love is worth sacrificing the rest of the world.

This is a paranormal/occult Beauty and the Beast novel, set in Greco-Roman times, in the kingdom of Arcadia. Multiple Greek gods and myths are referenced throughout the book, as the belief system of the majority of the characters.

My Thoughts:
The book started off pretty redundant and slow, with the recurring theme of Nyx’s hurt from her father’s inaffection, disgust toward her aunt’s affair, and internal battle against hating her sister Astraia (who was not chosen to wed the Gentle Lord because of her resemblance to their dead mother) and hating her mother (whose death began Nyx’s life of revenge). I felt like I really didn’t need these themes hammered home as many times as they were within the first couple chapters.

Once I figured out that this story was not about an epic take-down, but about solving riddles, I was able to sit back and enjoy it. The fact of the matter is, nobody really knows that much about the Gentle Lord, a.k.a. the Demon Lord. And certainly nobody but his wives and the doomed people he’s bargained with know much of anything about his house. The only person who seems to know stuff is Shade, who is bound not to tell, and the Kindly Ones (who aren’t so kind, and aren’t so available). Everybody else is trying to figure stuff out. Once you see the story as one big puzzle, it makes a heck of a lot more sense.

What really threw me was that Nyx’s original tactic for taking down the Gentle Lord’s house (with him, and probably herself, inside it) was almost irrelevant. She needed to find the rooms, yes. And they had massive significance. But it felt like there was virtually no point to all that world-building about Hermetic sigils and workings, except to give context for her father’s position. I think Nyx only used a sigil once in the entire book (turning off her bedroom lamp once to show how it works doesn’t count). And her “virgin knife” never made an emphatic comeback. Not to mention, throwing away her only true trump card—her virginity—didn’t make that big of a splash. Not only was it not played up after all those nervous warning bells in the beginning, but it didn’t make any difference to the outcome. She drops her dress, and then *bam* next scene. I thought, Wow, that could have happened a lot sooner, with virtually no ripples.

It was about halfway through the book that my mind started doing gymnastics, attempting to guess the answers to all the riddles and how they all tie together. It got super fun from there, though not a lot more emotional until nearer to the end. I won’t tell you the ending, but I will tell you that it’s worth getting to. And, DON’T SKIP AHEAD!!! Seriously, you’ll be soooo confused, because at one point the chronology becomes super important. If you read the book in order, you’re already getting pieces from all different parts of the chronology, so skippers beware. I didn’t skip, but if you do, you’ll just jumble the brain-bending ending.

Consensus:
If you’re intrigued by the book’s cover blurb about an unconventional Belle and a not-so-charming lord, this is definitely the book for you. If, however, you are waiting to see that there’s a lovely Prince Charming beneath that gruff, scarred male exterior…go find another book. Part of this book’s charm is that it doesn’t conform to that old-school/Disney pop-culture transformation; it’s more realistic.

I really enjoyed this book, as a story full of puzzles and riddles and mysteries and unconventional romance. The heroine is smart (but not too smart), and doesn’t give up easily, and she doesn’t change all that radically. This book is very much about loving people as they are, and loving within your capacity to love.

So, don’t read this book for the assassination action. Read this book to get to know Ignifex and Shade, the two juxtaposed, troubled men that Nyx is not sure she can save.

In all honesty, I would have liked some more details in the narration—more narrative coddling and in-depth, in-their-head emotional action. I felt a bit distanced from the characters, like I was watching the story unfold rather than feeling my heart race when I looked at one guy or the other, or almost drowned in a supernatural pool, etc. But I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint exactly how this should have been incorporated, because I feel like all of the characters were intentionally distant; they all had secrets. And the secrets were what made the book interesting.

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