Friday, April 3, 2015

Cruel Beauty

Nyx Triskelion is angry and rightfully so. Due to an idiotic promise from her father, she must marry the Gentle Lord, the monstrous demon responsible for ruining countless lives (including her own), countless deaths, the destruction their royal line, and the state of their home city of Arcadia being separated from the rest of the world. Nyx knows she is condemned to the sick whims of her husband and will most likely die after attempting to assassinate him, but she must try for the sake of her family and her people. Nyx resents everyone, but does her duty. The Gentle Lord defies most of her expectations and she develops an attraction to him even as she makes attempts on his life. Will she be strong enough to destroy him or will her emotions trap her and her people?

I was honestly not expecting a lot from Cruel Beauty. I expected lots of whining and an abusive love interest, but that's not what I got. Nyx is angry and resentful. She's been raised mostly without love of affection with the clear knowledge that she is a glorified sacrificial lamb. She was chosen over her twin sister for this purpose, so she had to sit by and see her sister treated as a father treats his daughter while she is held at arm's length. I completely understand her feelings and I don't blame her for being so bitter and negative. This type of character is usually a doormat, but Nyx makes all her own decisions and she's strong willed. It's ironic that the person she was told all her life that she has to kill, the Gentle Lord Ignifex, is the one who led her to experience love and happiness. It doesn't start out all roses and perfection. She is totally dedicated to her goal even if she has to commit loathsome acts. Ignifex is much nicer than she thought and never forces himself on her like she expects. They develop a real relationship with the occasional assassination attempt mixed in. One key scene between them is when Ignifex needs help to his room after dark because it causes him crippling pain. Nyx leaves him there and briefly celebrates his pain, but then feels regret. She pulled herself back from becoming a monster and went back to help him to his room. Losing her humanity and celebrating in another's pain wasn't worth getting closer to her goal. Nyx's journey and her development made over the course of the book made it impossible to put down.

Ignifiex and Shade are the two love interests in this love triangle. I usually hate love triangles, but this one had neither person being perfect and it is resolved in a very unexpected, but satisfying way. Ignifex and Shade look alike except that Ignifex has red cat eyes and a crueller visage. Right off the bat, Shade seems to be the meek, kind, long suffering prisoner while Ignifex seems to be the powerful, cruel demon. These expectations are subverted, showing Ignifex's softer side and Shade's cruel and even evil side. I like that these two men are people: not perfectly good or completely evil. Both are a mix. Nyx is conflicted because she likes both and has to come to terms with both of their good and bad qualities. All of the characters have a varying degree of the darker side of human nature. Some, like Nyx's father or many of the people lining up for Ignifex's dubious bargains, have an abundance, but no on is perfect and I'm glad the book reflects that.

The world where Cruel Beauty takes place really caught and kept my interest. The city of Arcadia in Greece is encased in a parchment-like bubble, secured away from the rest of the world for hundreds of years and ruled by the Gentle Lord. The people still worship the Greek pantheon of gods and some even practice Hermetic magic. Demons, supposedly from Tartarus, populate this world as well, including Ignifiex, his superiors who give him orders, and the Children of Typhon who escape Ignifex to drive people mad. The mixture of European fairy tales with Greek myths creates a different flavor of fairy tale book than usual. Greek myths are delved into much deeper than I would have thought and they include Cronos's downfall, Typhon's entrapment, the myth of Hades and Persephone, and the list goes on. Cruel Beauty is mainly a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but has shades of Rumplestiltskin (Nyx can guess Ignifex's true name each night) and Bluebeard (Ignifex's 8 dead and weirdly preserved wives and his only allowing her to explore certain rooms of the castle for her own safety). I love the world and that it does go through some crazy changes.

Cruel Beauty is a detailed, well written retelling of Beauty and the Beast with shades of other fairy tales and a healthy dose of Greek mythology thrown in for good measure. My only complaint is that the ending isn't super clear and could have been a little more descriptive. Other than that, I'm eager to read the next book in the series, although it's not a straight continuation of this story.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins


Amy Aelleah said...

Thumbs up for this review. I loved this book and am so excited about Crimson Bound. I agree with you about - pretty much everything, actually, but especially - the world. It was so unique for a fairy tale, which I love. You also make a really great point about the way this book portrays everyone as being a mix of good and evil. Awesome review!

Beth W said...

Yay! I loved this one, and can't wait to read Cruel Beauty (not only because of the world, but because of the good character building. I LOVE reading a female protagonist who gets to be bitter, resentful, angry, etc.)

Misty said...

I've been wanting to read this for obvious reasons, but been a little afraid to, for much of the same reasons you didn't have high hopes for it. (Also, weirdly because it's HarperTeen. I pay attention to these things, and some publishers I just don't jive with as much, which makes sense, because of editorial tastes and all that. But even though I love the plots and covers of a lot of Harper titles, I found they tend to be the ones that let me down the most...)
Glad to hear it might actually be worth it! (But who am I kidding, I would have eventually bought it anyway... ;P )