Sunday, February 16, 2014

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Everyone loves a good fairytale. What's not to love? Sweep-you-off-your-feet romances, titillating magic and undeniable adventures (will she get back by midnight?!) are all inextricable elements to any classic fairytale--in fact, they've even found their way into books of other genres as well. When I picked up Rosamund Hodge's "Cruel Beauty" and saw that it was a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast," I have to admit I was pretty darn excited. Good retellings require a vast amount of creativity and imagination, and I'm always curious to see how authors add their own spin to classic tales--though whether they're fresh and exciting is whole other story (pun totally intended).

Ever since she was born, Nyx has grown up certain about one thing: the sole purpose of her existence is to marry the demonic Gentle Lord, and kill him. After seventeen years of watching her sister be coddled and of being set at a distance by her own father, Nyx finally leaves her home to live in the castle of the all-powerful, evil Ignifex. Nyx understands that she is the only hope for breaking the nine-hundred-year-old curse on the people of Arcadia, but she can't help the resentment she feels for her fate and her family. But Ignifex is not what she expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle--a shifting maze with enchanting rooms--enthralls her. With time running out, Nyx is forced to face a decision with potentially disastrous consequences: to save her kingdom, or to save the man she was never supposed to love.

When I read the synopsis for "Cruel Beauty," I was instantly intrigued. "Beauty and the Beast" was one of my favourite fairytales growing up, and I could only imagine how much more exciting it would be with a butt-kicking heroine. The storyline of the novel presents a fresh take on the classic fairytale, and it was interesting to see how Ms. Hodge wove in her own ideas into the existing story. There's some pretty great world-building going on in the book--just imagine a town with a dark, towering castle, all of which is encased in a sky made out of parchment. No stars, no sky. Talk about a crappy curse, huh? What I also found exciting was the whole concept of the Resurgandi, a group of learned alchemists who are able to manipulate the elements, as it brought a whole new layer of magic to the story.

Having said this, I do think that there were quite a few things about the novel that just didn't quite work for me. One of the first things that come to mind is the whole Greek mythology strand to the plot. While I appreciate what Ms. Hodge was trying to do by merging fairytale and myth into one story, I felt like it was a little too forced at times. For example, there would be sudden mentions of statues of Apollo and Daphne and so on, and it was like it was kind of shoved in there to make the story more ingenious. I do see the connection between these myths and Nyx's whole situation of forced marriage and the like, but I felt like the execution itself wasn't very smooth. Moreover, I didn't feel the tension so much throughout the plot. Sure, there were the multiple tensions between Nyx and her family, Ignifex and her fate, but it just fell a little flat with all of her running around in the castle and kissing two men at once and all that.

Which, naturally, brings me to the characters of "Cruel Beauty." Nyx, as the heroine of the novel, is undoubtedly strong and determined. Quite the feisty lady. But I never felt like her character developed much as the story progressed, and she changed her mind way too quickly about some pretty important things. And what I especially didn't like so much was the almost insta-love going on between her and Shade, and her and Ignifex. Sure, she expresses remorse and some concern about smooching two men at once, but she continues to do so anyway. No biggie. Ms. Hodge does attempt to smooth this whole issue out with the twist in the end, but I felt like it was a little too late, since, by that time, I feel like I lost respect for the heroine of the novel. Ignifex was a pretty alright character--you get your typical bad-guy-but-actually-sincere-on-the-inside business with him, so, yeah. As for Nyx's family, boy oh boy I just hated all of them. A stoic father who doesn't care for his own daughter, an annoying aunt, and a whiny, two-faced sister? No wonder Nyx didn't mind leaving the house so much.

All in all, "Cruel Beauty" is just an okay retelling of a fairytale, with a fairly interesting spin on "Beauty and the Beast." But what really bummed me out was the lack of a truly compelling plot in the novel, as well as subpar characters I never became invested in. I'd say check it out if you're really interested, since this all my opinion, but don't expect a jaw-dropping, heart-racing adventure.

Rating: 2/5

No comments:

Post a Comment