Sunday, February 2, 2014

Book Review: Cruel Beauty

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.  Quoted from Goodreads


Love this book.

Well, that pretty much covers it.  Beauty and the Beast is one of my all time favorite fairy tales.  Throw in Robin McKinley's Beauty and Disney's animated classic, and there's not a lot left for people to do that isn't embarrassingly derivative or just plane sub-par.  Still, between that amazing cover and the eternal hope of another classic take on the legend, and I was sold.

First off, the whole book just feels different.  The world is heavily based in Greek mythology (reminiscent of a Cupid and Psyche retelling instead of Beauty and the Beast), which lends a depth and texture to the world and the circumstances of Nyx's relationship with the Gentle Lord.  It's also not just purely Beauty and the Beast that the author taps into for her inspiration. We get shades of other, less well known fairy tales, such as Blue Beard, to round out the story.

What really helps distinguish this from other adaptions is Nyx herself.  To be perfectly blunt, she isn't all sweetness and goodness or even really gentle and kind.  She hates the bargain her father made, hates her sister for not taking her place, and hates herself for hating them.  At the same time, she's strong willed, brave, and selfless---the exact kind of character I love to read about.  She isn't timid or even really intimidated by her circumstances.  She makes things happen, and while she's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, she's grounded and real.

And don't forget Ignifex (the Gentle Lord). He's evil incarnate in the beginning, so our "beast" isn't just a good person in an ugly body, but someone who actually does despicable things---but it isn't exactly as Nix is lead to believe.  I love Ignifex's  character.   He's charming and funny, witty and ruthless, full of broken pieces he doesn't even acknowledge.  To counterbalance this, we get Shade, Ignifex's shadow, who is everything Ignifex isn't but is full of his own desperate secrets. Yes, I'll admit, there is something resembling a love triangle for a small moment, but only for a moment . . . sort of.

So what this boils down to is this is not your basic fairy tale retelling. Yes, all the elements are there, but it never feels like a retelling.  This is a story whole and fresh in and of itself while sticking pretty faithfully to the Beauty and the Beast elements from the original fairy tale. So should you read it? Yes. Absolutely.  I'm giving it a strong 4.5 stars. It was everything I hoped for and more while being completely separate at the same time.  I can't wait to see what this debut author does next.

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