I’ve read a couple of Beauty and the Beast retellings, but Cruel Beauty still manages to stand out. I’m a big Greek/Roman mythology nerd, so that aspect of the book really appealed to me. The basic premise is this: Nyx’s father bargained with the Gentle Lord, the prince of demons, so that he and his wife could have two daughters. The price was one of his daughters once she turned seventeen. Nyx’s father accepted.
Seventeen years later, Nyx is getting ready for her marriage to the Gentle Lord. Him being a demon, she’s not exactly expecting marital bliss. Besides, she’s been training her whole life to bring the Gentle Lord’s castle crashing down around both of them. Bitter toward the father who never even tried to save her and resentful toward the sister whose life costs her own, Nyx journeys up to the castle to die.
To her surprise (though probably not the reader’s), the castle and the Gentle Lord aren’t exactly what Nyx expected. Instead of torment, she finds a castle full of riddles, locked doors, and shadowy demons. As she explores the castle and gets to know Ignifex (the Gentle Lord), Nyx discovers that everything is not as it seems. *cue dramatic music*
The plot is imaginative and compelling, but the characters are what really carried this book for me. I’m a big fan of characters that don’t delude themselves about the darkness inside them. Nyx acknowledges that she’s bitter and resentful toward her family, and when she gets to the castle, she pours all that angry energy into destroying Ignifex once and for all. (Hatred. It’s better than coffee.) Likewise, striking cruel bargains is what brings home the bacon for Ignifex, and he doesn’t pretend that he’s a good person. The romance between them is built on the idea that they truly see each other: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“I had been waiting, all my life, for someone undeceived to love me.”
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sure how I could ever ship Nyx and Ignifex, considering his day job, but Hodge managed to convince me. Pretty much every scene between the two of them was fun to read, because they’re champions of flirty banter.
“Well, I’m already hoping there could be a dinner where you don’t try to stab me with your fork,” he said.
“You might need to make your peace with disappointment.”
Those guys. Also, Ignifex gets pretty snuggly in the best way: falling asleep on her lap and curling up next to her to sleep. He trusts and likes Nyx despite (or because of) repeated assassination attempts, and that helped win me over, too. Ignifex actually reminds me a bit of Howl, from Howl’s Moving Castle. Self-absorbed, sometimes cruel, very funny. For the record, (spoiler alert) Ignifex’s job is one of those things that isn’t exactly what it seems. If he really was a demon prince whose casual side hobby was ruining people’s lives, no amount of repartee would win me over.
One minor thing that I wasn’t too fond of: this book contains one of my reading pet peeves, the He’s Too Handsome for Me to Think trope. Several times, Ignifex gets close to Nyx and suddenly, all thought is gone! All Nyx wants to do is kiss his perfect face! Ignifex, or whoever the Handsome Dangerous Guy is, usually chuckles knowingly, fully aware of his effect on her.
I usually get through scenes like this with excessive eye-rolling and by imagining the guy as the snake from Disney’s Robin Hood. (Because he hypnotizes her like a snake hypnotizes its prey! It makes perfect sense!)
Thankfully, there isn’t too much of this, and overall I really enjoyed Cruel Beauty. The cover and tagline (Her mission was to kill him. Her destiny was to love him.) made me a bit wary, but this book shone with its multifaceted characters and hilarious back-and-forth. (There was actual laughing out loud.) If you like fairy tale retellings, Greek mythology, or characters that are above all honest about what they are, you’ll want to check out Cruel Beauty.