A magical and disorientating re-telling.
Genre: Y/A, Fantasy
No. of pages: 352
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.
For the first half of this ‘Cruel Beauty,’ I squirmed uncomfortably, not for anything that was written, but the writing style was elaborate and fanciful and took a considerable time to relax into. I’m also not a huge fan of re-tellings, and this one was a little too close to the original to stop me from pulling comparisons. But this book is a fantastic beast in its own right and I’m glad I gave it a chance.
Nyx was a fun character to read. She was hateful and resentful as well as determined and righteous. Not a wilting flower, or a warrior, but a fallible human being, and I really liked that. She wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, get a little snarky, or even a bit devious.
I did find all the mention of Gods and mythology confusing at times, as I also did with the aspect of the Prince’s *cough-Beast’s-cough* house. The whole setting was so imaginary and malleable that it was disorientating and difficult to track the nature of the plot. But in hindsight, it exactly does what it is supposed to do for the tale. The narrative has a magical tone to it which reminds me of old Irish fairie tales.
The weird love triangle thing between the Prince, the Shadow, and Nyx felt a little forced and manufactured, and the beginning of the relationships did not feel as if they grew organically. But I do like how, even with teasing of an unreliable narrator, there were reasons not to trust any of the characters in this novel.
I was guessing and flip-flopping in opinions on everyone. Which was both a good and a bad thing. I like to be kept on my toes… but not so much as there isn’t a solid grounding in either the main character or her quest. There was such a feeling of being untethered through most of the novel, that it stopped me from truly enjoying it. Only towards the end, when aspects of the plot started to draw together did I truly revel in ‘Cruel Beauty.’
The novel is beautifully written, completely matching the genre and tone, but not a style I enjoyed reading too much. I felt like I was back a University wading through the works of Chaucer at times. Some readers will love this, but for my personal taste, I found it annoying and slowed the pace of the storyline.
It had a strong high-fantasy vibe, rather than nostalgic for the original tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and is probably why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. I really have to be in the mood to digest high fantasy, and like reading my world built, and quest painted out in clear concise language. Even now, after completing the novel I can’t clearly define the universe and role of the Gods, or the magic system used.
With the over-indulgence in the writing style playing against it, ‘Cruel Beauty’ did a wonderful job at painting a scene, my imagination ran wild with the fantastical places and magical/dream-like elements.
On the whole it was an okay read – I loved the last quarter and had an ‘aww’ moment at the end. The first half needs to drive the story along more forcefully, and the development of the world more concise for me to get into it, which would probably remove about fifty pages from its length and pick up the pacing.
I liked this take on the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and have seen the mixed reviews. I guess if you love fairy tales, and high fantasy, ‘Cruel Beauty’ is one for you; otherwise you might be a little confused like I was.
Overall feeling: okay, interesting, pretty good…
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