Fairy Tales · Review: Fairy Tale · Review: Fantasy · Review: Mythology

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Yes, I was always going to find another version of Beauty and the Beast to gush over, eventually. Here goes.

The Story

The Gentle Lord makes bargains with the mortals of Arcadia. Everyone knows that those bargains always come at a terrible price.

Nyx’s betrothal to the Gentle Lord was an outcome of one such deal. Nyx has known that this was to be her fate since childhood, and is filled with anger and hate: at her father, at her sister, at the world.

When the day comes that she is wed to the Gentle Lord, who introduces himself as Ignifex, she finds life different from what she expected. Ignifex seems to find amusement in her anger and hatred. Ignifex is not the cruel, demanding husband that she expected. Instead, he merely offers her a set of rules: she is permitted to go anywhere that her key will go, and she is offered an opportunity every night to guess his name. A correct guess means freedom; a wrong guess means death.

On the Subject of Fairy Tale Etymology

Given the tags of this post, plus the setting reminiscent of ancient Rome, one might expect that this is a story similar to Cupid and Psyche. Alas, it is not. This is a retelling of Villeneuve’s Beauty and Beast through and through. Though there are occasionally elements of the story that reminded me of Cupid and Psyche, the more the story went on, the clearer it became that this was not paying homage to Cupid and Psyche at all.

What this is is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, taken in setting back to its ancient Roman roots without retaining any of the story elements from those roots.

One could argue that elements of Cupid and Psyche are implied. For instance, Nyx does lose and regain Ignifex; however, that journey is mostly left to the reader’s imagination. Nyx is offered in tribute to a higher power; however, that comes of a bargain made by her father (akin to the deal made for the rose in Beauty and the Beast) rather than the higher power’s affection for her, specifically. There is no force that wishes to hold them apart, except that which seeks to punish Ignifex for his past through his curse.

All of these are elements drawn from Beauty and the Beast rather than Cupid and Psyche, and that I found somewhat disappointing.

On the Way Things Seem Versus the Way Things Are

The deceptiveness of appearances is a major theme of this book. From the very start of the story, Nyx and Astraia, her twin sister, both cope with the reality of their situations through lies and false cheer. Ignifex brings up, eventually, the fact that none of Nyx’s family could have loved her, for she never let them see her for who she was.

The deceptiveness of appearances is also apparent in every layer of the curse that surrounds Ignifex and all of Arcadia. Ignifex himself is seen as the evil overlord of Arcadia, but he himself has little choice but to act as he is bade by his own masters.

In accordance with this theme, misunderstandings abound, leading the characters to their inevitable unnecessarily unhappy endings.

My Conclusions

I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed watching Ignifex and Nyx falling in love with each others’ poison. The impossibility of the curse placed on them was certainly more daunting than most Beauty and the Beast curses, and I appreciated that; however, I also felt somewhat cheated at the end, when despite everything they manage to achieve their happy ending. Yet perhaps that is also encouraging on some level: the idea that impossibility is not always absolute.

Overall, I would recommend this book.

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