Goodreads: Cruel Beauty
Seventeen-year-old Nyx’s father made a bargain with the demon lord Ignifex before she was born. Now she must become Ignifex’s bride. But she has a plan to kill him. Then, unexpectedly, Nyx finds herself falling in love. Can she save Ignifex? Or will she lose him forever?
Cruel Beauty is part fantasy, but mostly romance. Focused on the forced marriage of seventeen-year-old Nyx to the demon lord who rules her world, the story is ostensibly about Nyx’s efforts to kill her husband, but ends up being about Nyx’s desire to kiss the demon lord, as well as his mysterious, animate shadow. Readers who enjoy steamy romances will find this fairy tale retelling to their taste.
I always feel conflicted about books like Cruel Beauty because I personally feel a little uncomfortable spending my time reading about someone’s lustful feelings. The worldbuilding here is fascinating, and that drew me in, as did the mystery behind the demon lord’s curse. Yet, time and again, the story returns to Nyx’s sexual desires. Indeed, a good portion of the story is based around the question of, “When will he ravish her?” Nyx initially lives each night in fear, believing her husband will claim his marital rights. Later, she begins to wish he would. The result is almost like a weird kind of voyeurism where readers are supposed to start hoping that the climactic moment will finally arrive. (There’s nothing graphic shown, though.)
So, yeah, the focus on Nyx’s sexual desires is a little uncomfortable and made me wonder if reading Cruel Beauty was a beneficial use of my time. However, I found myself really drawn into the world Rosamund Hodges creates. Nyx lives in a land sundered from our world. The sky is paper and demons lurk in the shadows. Generations of scholars have sought ways to kill the demon lord and, hopefully, undo the sundering. This is a delightfully original premise and, combined with Nyx’s explorations through the demon lord’s magic house, ultimately made the book worth reading. (Though it’s worth noting that the constant Greek references add nothing significant to the worldbuilding, except perhaps a sense of confusion about why Hodge included them at all.)
I also enjoyed Nyx as a character. As she constantly tells us, she is not very nice. She has hatred in her heart and she is determined to kill the demon lord, even as she finds herself drawn to him. This makes her feel vivid and refreshing. Readers do not have to feel compelled to like her because, frankly, I am not sure she is likeable. However, she is interesting. And I wanted to know how her story would end.
Cruel Beauty is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” set in an original fantasy world, but focused a good deal on the romance. Fans of fantasy and retold fairy tales will find a lot to like about the book. But readers should also know that the romance takes center stage.