Review of “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge

This book is being touted as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.


Nyx Triskelion is a twin who has been raised to become the wife of the evil and ironically named “Gentle Lord” – the “Prince of Demons” who resides in a castle on a distant hill. At the time of her birth, Nyx’s father made a bargain with the Gentle Lord to let his wife conceive, and the Gentle Lord promised twin girls. In return, the father agreed to give up one of the twins in marriage when she turned seventeen. The mother died in childbirth, infuriating the father. He wants to avenge her death and also free the land of Arcadia from the control of the demon prince. Nyx’s whole life is spent in training by her father so that she could kill The Gentle Lord when she got into his presence. Nyx knows this will mean her own death, and she is well aware that her father chose her to be the one to do it because he loved her twin sister Astraia more. Astraia, after all, bears the closest resemblance to their dead mother.

When Nyx finally meets the Gentle Lord, who goes by the name of Ignifex, she unexpectedly finds him attractive in both form and substance, in spite of her years of indoctrination to hate him. On the other hand, she is also drawn to Shade, the shadowly doppelgänger of Ignifex. As time passes, she becomes more conflicted. Which one will she betray? Will evil or good prevail?

Discussion: This book is much darker than the fairytale, and also mixes in a lot of allusions to Greek mythology. The sampling from each of these stories is incomplete and sometimes even incompatible, resulting in a bit of an unappealing stew. This also is a good way to describe the characterization. It seemed as if the author couldn’t decide who her characters were. Shade and Ignifex are presented as the good and the bad halves of the same person, but often Shade is evil and Ignifex is kind. [Shade, albeit “the good one,” is unfortunately (or might I say, predictably) way more boring than Ignifex.] Their split is mirrored in one between Nyx and Astraia, since, even though they are twins, one is supposed to be good and one bad. But they keep switching their personas around as well. One might think the author was trying to make a statement about the fuzzy borders of good and evil, but I didn’t get that impression. Rather, it just seemed like a poorly conceived mess.

Furthermore, the father is obsessed with avenging the death of his wife, but he has been having an affair with his wife’s sister for a long time, so his motivation didn’t ring true for me. I would, however, believe his ego is the problem, since it took a hit when he felt he was tricked by the Gentle Lord. But for this not only to simmer for seventeen years but to require, for his satisfaction, the death of one of his daughters? No one (including the author) seems to come up with the insight that the father is actually the most evil character, not Ignifex.

In addition, once Nyx gets married, much of the story consists of boring “chase scenes,” with Nyx running through the castle and up and down stairs to attempt to enter all the little doors she finds before someone catches her. Then there is all the space devoted to Nyx trying to decide if she loves her sister or hates her sister. After a while, you just wanted to scream, “Get over it!” Moreoever, given Nyx’s ambivalence, is the decision she makes in the end regarding her sister, vis-a-vis Igniflex, realistic? Not to me.

I found a few good aspects to the book, such as the dome-like nature of Arcadia, and the potential of Igniflex: he is appealing, and would have made a good character if he were a “standalone” so to speak, instead of an inconsistently drawn “half.”

Evaluation: While I found much to fault about this book, it has been very well received by other reviewers.

Rating: 1.5/5

Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2014


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6 Responses to Review of “Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    When I started the review and saw the names, I figured the book wasn’t for me so I was rather relieved to see you didn’t like it. I don’t even have to think about giving this one a try.

  2. Care says:

    I like the cover.

  3. Beth F says:

    I’ll likely read this one just because but I sure won’t go in expecting much.

  4. Hm, not sure it’s for me, either!

  5. How much sister time is there compared to running around checking doors time?

    (Your mentioning her running about on stairs and through doors has made me imagine this book as a bawdy French farce. :p)

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