TITLE: Cruel Beauty
AUTHOR: Rosamund Hodge
GENRE: fantasy, romance
PLOT SUMMARY: Seventeen years ago, Nyx's father struck a bargain with Ignifex, the demon that rules their land. In exchange for his wife bearing healthy twins, one twin would be wed to Ignifex on her seventeenth birthday. Nyx is the twin that got chosen, and since childhood, she has been training to kill Ignifex, freeing her people. Nyx goes to his home determined to bring him down once and for all, but things get incredibly complicated when it becomes apparent that the demon won't be slain easily... and that he's not quite the soulless monster everyone says he is.
FIRST THOUGHTS: This book is the literary equivalent to your favorite junk food. It's not of the highest nutritional value, and you may feel a little guilty for gorging yourself on it, but it's just so good. It's trashy and ridiculous, but it's a lot of fun, and I enjoyed every page. Just because a book isn't great literature doesn't mean you can't enjoy it, and this book is a prime example of that. I really, really enjoyed this one -- every last, indulgent bit of it.
THOUGHTS ON PLOT: This is, of course, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling. Being my favorite fairy tale, I'll jump on any retelling of it. While the plot of this book can get a bit silly and melodramatic and convoluted, it's incredibly engaging, and it's obvious the author put a lot of thought into all the twists and turns, as well as the world this book is set in. It's very easy to lose yourself in the story, and it's great to see all the nods to various versions of the fairy tale. Some of the magical aspects of the book got a bit confusing, but the assassination plot is exciting, and it all moves incredibly quickly -- I read most of the book in one sitting.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON CHARACTERS: I've always said I can withstand the most ridiculous plot in the world if I like the characters, and this holds very true for "Cruel Beauty." I loved the main character, Nyx. I loved her strength, and the fact that she's a very atypical fairy tale heroine. While she tries her best to do the right thing, and is capable of being very caring, she's allowed to be resentful, angry, scheming, and brooding -- something that YA paranormal romance usually leaves to the dudes. Sometimes, Nyx can be a downright bitch, but that's okay. She always keeps that likability to her, and frankly, given her situation, it'd be unrealistic if she wasn't a darker character. Ignifex was also very likable and charming -- even when he's still in "jerk" mode. I won't pretend he's an ideal love interest; in real life, I'd punch him in the face. (Which Nyx does... multiple times.) But as a love interest in a "turn your brain off and enjoy the fun" book, he's perfect. There's also Shade, Ignifex's shadowy servant, and Astraia, Nyx's better-fated twin sister. They're both surprisingly deep characters, and provide greater insights into Ignifex's and especially Nyx's characters. Most of the book rides on Nyx and Ignifex and their interaction, and they both do a great job at holding the reader's interest and keeping the action going. It can be really hard to keep a story compelling when most of it rides on just two people, but Hodge makes it work.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON WRITING STYLE: As I mentioned above, this book is addictive. I was sucked in from the very first page, and I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Even the book's most tropey and fanficy moments were enjoyable. (And, yeah -- this book is very fanficy. In the best way. ...I write fanfic, and lots of it, so I can't judge too much.) I'm very invested in this world the author's created, and I'm curious to see what else she does with it in future works. The story is quite dark, but the reading experience is light and fun.
7 / 10
THOUGHTS ON POLITICAL STUFF: ...Yyyyyyeah. I'm not gonna lie; this is not a book for expanding your mind or thinking about challenging social issues. It's a book for pure, indulgent fantasy. As such, the political aspects are lacking, for lack of a better word. There are no POC or queer characters, which is a bit disappointing -- I'm gay, and frankly, I demand my mindless, trashy paranormal romance. DEMAND. That aside, there is a refreshing lack of female stereotyping. Nyx and her sister Astraia aren't stereotyped in that typical "bad girl vs. good girl" fashion -- Nyx, for all her anger and resentment, has moments of genuine softness and kindness, while Astraia, despite being the "good" daughter, isn't all sweetness and light. I also liked that Nyx isn't a typical emotionless action girl. She tries to be, but she has several minor breakdowns over what she has to do, and the pain she's been through hits her hard. It's small, but it's refreshing.
4 / 10
FINAL THOUGHTS: This is a fun, indulgent summer read. It's great for a long plane ride or a trip to the beach; you don't have to think too hard, but you're totally immersed and completely entertained. I really, really liked it -- I actually went and bought another book by the same author, Crimson Bound, and look forward to reading it soon. I know it may seem like I'm damning this one with faint praise, but I really did enjoy it wholeheartedly, in spite of its flaws -- hell, because of them. It's a great spin on a great fairy tale, one that I will probably revisit sometime soon.
FINAL GRADE: 6.25 / 10
Thanks for reading this book review! If you've read "Cruel Beauty," tell me your thoughts in the comments below. If not, what are some of YOUR favorite guilty pleasure reads? I'd love to check them out.
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