Books, Reviews

Non – Spoiler Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Title: Cruel Beauty

Author: Rosamund Hodge

Number of Pages: 342

Synopsis:

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 fulfil 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—enthrals 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.

Synopsis Taken From Goodreads

julie andrews shrug GIF

Where. Do. We. Start!

I was really excited about this book. This book was on my mental list of “Save this book and read it when you want a good read!!”… it shouldn’t have been. Not at all. I remember back when I started reading book blogs, way before I created my own, this book was everywhere. A lot of people were raving about it, so I bought it. And it sat, unread, on my shelf for many, many years. 5 years to be exact.

Until recently.

I read it now.

And now I’m sad.

The two are related.

MY HOPES AND DREAMS ARE CRUSHED!

Crushed so thoroughly that they are finer than dust.

I was so looking forward to it because it was reviewed so highly by people who’s reading tastes were akin to mine, so I wanted in on the love. *Sigh of despair*

It took me a few weeks days of mulling on this book and how I feel about it, coming up with snappy sentences that I have since forgotten because I didn’t write them down.

But to put it simply…

B.O.R.E.D

I was bored. Both from the book, and from hoping that it might get better on the next page – because I read all the pages this book had to offer. Hint; It didn’t get better. It got worse.

I read a sentence and immediately wanted a nap. And this is not due to a poor sleeping schedule. No ho ho! I’ve been working on sleeping better these past few months. *celebrations because I think it’s working and I don’t feel like a tangled mess on fire moving around my house on rusted, squeaking wheels*

I wanted a nap because the same things kept happening and would happen again the next chapter, but was written about like it was a New ThingTM , and I was bored of it. The only time bringing the same points up more than once, is when that point is being brought to the intention of another character. So we get their reaction.

We didn’t get that.

There were only like 6 characters and then some new ones that were shoved in the last 10 pages and it was written as if they had been there this whole time… except they weren’t. They appeared out of nowhere…

lord of the rings GIF

But let’s get a little more in depth shall we – just without the spoilery bits.

Characters

Nyx

The main character of Cruel Beauty wasn’t scoring any points from me. In fact she wasn’t scoring anything at all, because she couldn’t make her mind up for the entirety of the book (and when she does it’s a complete 180, literally came out of nowhere, completely undid the past few chapters of [albiet very little] character development, and then she completely changes her mind again but by then it’s too late).

I love me some progressive character arcs, with characters doing the opposite of what they thought they would do at the beginning of the books. Because as they learn stuff, they decide which path would lead to a better outcome, either for themselves or, for the good of the world.

But what really gets boring. Is having a character, who you are stuck reading the perspective of, flip flop between the same two thoughts while adding nothing new to the narrative.

Nyx, the main character, is angry at the world, her family, and the fate she had been handed. As she should be. I was all, “Okay! Great! Strong lady’s going to go into this quest/story, kick some booty and tell fate what’s up!”

No.

She doesn’t.

Essentially her father making a bargain with the Demon Lord is the problem, and that he didn’t treat her like a daughter but more like a weapon/ student. So she’s rightfully salty about that, and I was like “OHHH! Maybe she’ll get revenge on her father for her poor upbringing by teaming up with the Demon Lord and then she’ll RULE THE WORLD!” or “MAYBE SHE’LL COMPLETE THE QUEST AND THEN COME OUT ALIVE AND BE ALL ‘I HATE YOU ALL GOODBYE’ AND LIVE HER BEST LIFE IN A COTTAGE IN THE WOODS AND THEN THE COMPANION NOVEL IS ALL “Go ask the ancient crone in the forest! She knows many things!” AND THEN OLD CRONE NYX WILL BE ALL, HERE’S HOW WE KILL DEMON LORDS AND SAVE THE WORLD K BYE KIDS!”

No again.

She spends most of (if not all) the book agonising over how she was “poison” with “poison in her heart” – most of this was because she said something “cruel” to her sister who was “sweet and kind and all that was good in the world!” (I’ll get to her in a bit).

But the flip flopping. Guys. The FLIP FLOPPING!

I think the intent was to make her character more interesting, but it made her appear incredibly indecisive and directionless. Like, literally, a chapter would end with a “And so my mind was made up. I was going to kill my husband. Tomorrow.” So then, we, as readers are like. She has decided. We will support. Do your quest girl.

BUT ON LITERALLY THE NEXT PAGE!!!!!!!!

She’s all “SO I love him now! I don’t know how I could ever think about hurting him uwu!”

And then she’ll go back to “HE HAS TO DIE!” *slaps him across the face when he makes an observation on her True FeelingsTM and she doesn’t like that – it makes her want to kill him… FOR A WHOLE SECOND!!!!!!!!! Then it’s all “HE KNOWS ME!!!” ‘heart eyes’*

“I LOVE HIM SO HE! MUST! LIVE!”

But then “I HAVE FORGOTTEN MY MISSION! MUST COMPLETE MY MISSION! DEATH IT IS!”

I’m tired honey. Pick one.

She flip flopped with which of the two “HANDSOME” men she liked, which… fine… I’m familiar with love triangles. I don’t like them, so I guess I’m a little biased here, but a love triangle doesn’t ruin a story for me. Usually.

I couldn’t stand this one.

She smooched one (not long after meeting him) and then loved him (literally a few pages after the smooch), she smooches the other and is like “hmmm maybe I like him more” but then decides she feels guilty for smooching the second guy (who is her husband by the way), and goes back to smooching dude #1 (they smooch in a room filled with corpsesmore specifically… the corpses of her husbands previous 8 wives…) but then dude #1 makes a big mistake and she decides her husband is perfect for her and her “heart of poison” and his “wickedness” fit perfectly together.

So, to summarize Nyx:

  • Is angry at everything (as she should be) but does nothing about it.
  • Spends the majority of the book moping and whining about how she hates/loves her sister, and about smooching one of the two dudes (depends on which one she’s talking to).
  • Is said to have been “training to kill her husband since birth” but yet completely screws the top secret mission – that she spend her whole life learning every detail of – in two seconds. “I’m your wife! I burn for your touch! I thirst for your love!” is a sentence she says to her husband, while stripping, a few minutes after seeing him for the first time… seconds after punching him in the face.
  • Zero Will. What mission? There was no mission? Unless the mission was about these two “handsome” fellas! (Literally, other than them apparently being attractive… I got nothing. THEY got nothing. Who are they?? What are they like?? We don’t know.)
  • Zero Decision Making Skills. Who does she love? She’s not sure, but she’s going to get it on with both and completely confuse you later by choosing the one she says she hates most!! Does she want to kill the Demon Lord like she’s planned and plotted to do since she was a child?? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  WHO KNOWS? Not Nyx. But maybe she’s happy being married to him??? OR maybe she’s happy that he’s in great, unimaginable pain??? WHO KNOWWWWWWWWS!
  • Spends her days in the Castle with the same schedule everyday. Wake up. Think about plan to bring down your husband. Walk around house looking for the “Hearts of the House” (still don’t quite know what this means, but I know it added nothing to the story and was a waste of time). Opens a lot of doors and finds *:・゚✧ n o t h i n g *:・゚✧ Thinks about how much she hates her sister. Thinks about how much she loves her sister. Has dinner with husband. Tells husband how much she hates him. Smacks husband. Thinks about killing husband. Later pines after husband because *:・゚✧l o v e *:・゚✧ Thinks about dude #2 (or dude #1?? who knows which order she fell in love with them in?? she was smooching both simultaneously)
  • The Ending and pretty much most of the “progress” only happened because someone else told her to do it… or they shoved her in the right direction and was like “here’s what you’re looking for” and then she was all “I HAVE FOUND IT! MY PLAN IS PROGRESSING!” But she did nothing. She learned nothing. People gave her all the answers. She figured nothing out.

The Love Interests

I would give these fellas their own section but… I don’t have much to go with so they’re getting smooshed in here together, which is ideal really – if you’ve read the book, you know what I mean.

So these are the love interests! The Demon Lord, Ignifex and Shade, a literal shadow blob?? I think??

Do we know much about them when she starts to fall in love them??

Spongebob Squarepants No GIF

Of course we don’t! WHY WOULD WE EVER NEED TO KNOW *ANYTHING* ABOUT THEM???

The Demon Lord, Ignifex: Cool title, Cool name… has a cool house – maze thing? Wears Keys (pretty cool). Grants peoples’ wishes for a hefty price (which is how Nyx ended up becoming his wife – a bad deal there my dude). Is scared of the dark. Other than that…

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Nyx spends the first bit of the book, insulting him, fighting him and planning how she’s going to kill him as well as commenting on how attractive he is. And then she loves him and feels guilty because she also loves the other guy. But then also wants to murder him??

Shade: A shadow servant to the Demon Lord, literally don’t know anything else about him that isn’t a spoiler. Nyx insta loves him and kisses him two minutes after meeting him (which magically gives him the power to talk but this is never explained?? Nyx doesn’t have magic?? But Shade’s all “I can speak because you kissed me.” *smirk smirk smirk* YES BUT HOW????) for the rest of the book she thinks about him, while also making out with Demon Lord boi.

Big confusion.

These two characters were… empty.

Like buying some amazing looking jars that promise loads of goodies inside but then you look inside and there’s nothing in there but wasted potential.

Especially with Ignifex. Like, he’s called The Demon Lord… GIVE ME DEMON LORD!! NOT *gestures* WHATEVER THAT WAS!

The “love” was empty just like the characters. With Shade, it was insta love and insta smooch. With Ignifex, it literally came out of nowhere. They just started loving each other? Even though she was basically trying to kill him a few pages ago?? But now it’s a loving marriage??

Basically, Nyx was horny but she couldn’t decide which pretty man she she liked more. So we’re left to suffer through several pages of lust driven angst.

And it could be summed up in one word:

*:・゚✧ P A I N F U L *:・゚✧

The Sister, Astraia

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I don’t want to spoil things. But other than what we learn about her at the beginning of the book and Nyx’s unending internal conflict about her.

We don’t meet her again until towards the end of the book.

But what we DO know about her is that she is sweet, kind, caring, naïve, believes in a children’s story that will “solve all their problems” because her aunt and father don’t want to break her with the truth.

But none of that matters.

Because who we meet later is none of these things.

I hope this isn’t spoilery, but she basically becomes a different character with the same name. And I disliked both versions of her character, even though she was only there for a few moments.

Plot

There really wasn’t much plot. There was the plan… that never happened.

We thought it would, we were promised something would happen. But we got… whatever this mess is??

So the goal is to undo “the curse” which has imprisoned her kingdom under a sky of parchment. But not a lot of progress is made towards this goal because of all the.. pining and “I am walking – talking poison” moping.

There is a point in which Nyx learns all the secrets she needs to know to save her world and the One She Loves!!! A magical god/bird told her (this book took inspiration from Beauty and the Beast as well as Greek Mythology – I’ll get to it) aaaannnnddddd.

The sheer POWER of this KNOWLEDGE meant Nyx collapsed and slept for a week or something after learning it.

AAAAAANNNNNDDDDD!

She conveniently *:・゚✧ f o r g e t s *:・゚✧ everything. Meaning the “plot” could drag on for another handful of chapters.

sarcastic schitts creek GIF by CBC

The world didn’t really make any sense?? There was this whole “Hermetic” thing going on. I was under the impression that drawing the diagrams would affect a mechanical/elemental kinda thing, but that it worked in a touchscreen phone kind of way?? But apparently that was the magic?? And then Shade is all “I feel your power growing.” to Nyx and then I’m like “???!!!” All we’re told is that she has been trained since birth to assassinate her husband, and bring down his house with these Hermetic diagrams that she’s learned??? But now it’s magic?? SHE all of a sudden has magic??

All the Hermetic stuff turns out to be useless and she uses exactly none of it.

We literally only meet 6 characters for pretty much the whole book. Nyx, Her Father, Her Aunt, Her Sister, Shade and Ignifex. That’s all. Her father, aunt and sister were only in like 30% of the book too. So, it was just the angsty, lusting love triangle of pain for the other 70%.

But this book is supposed to be a Beauty and the Beast retelling… and I mean… yeah?? I can see that bit, it just wasn’t done very well.

But then the story had loads (I mean LOADS like, unnecessary amounts) of Greek/Roman mythology in here too, which I didn’t know about, so when I read it… EXCITED! I had a Greek Mythology obsession when I was like 12, so I’m always excited when it’s woven through stories… However, this… no.

New gods were introduced into the story in way of “It was said that when God-Dude did that God-Dude thing….” but like… it added nothing?? I was just sitting there like?? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN??? WHY DO I NEED TO KNOW?? What does this add to anything??

And because there was a lot of it, it was just a mess. A big, confusing mess.

There were also Rumpelstiltskin, Bluebeard and Pandora’s Box influences and I just… In theory all these things can add things to a story and make it great!

In this case… mixing 5 different things only left us with mess?? Imagine a child is playing in a sand pit. The child decided why play with one thing when they can play with all the things! So, buried and thrown around in the sand pit there is now; Play-Doh, Lego, the Connect Four board game and a Wii Remote.

None of these things should really be muddled all into one place, but since they are, we are left to look at it and try and figure out what is going on…

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Done well, adding different mythologies and old folktales to a classic trope like Beauty and the Beast, has great potential. Done poorly… it turns out like this book. To be honest I don’t know whether I should be frustrated or just… cry.

And then there is the ending.

I didn’t hate it completely.

I love me a happy ending!

However…

Completely undoing everything about not only the world, but about the characters… it threw me off completely.

I think it could have been great. But it really wasn’t.

Everything we thought we knew, was basically gone – and Nyx once again forgets everything except this time EVERYONE ELSE FORGETS TOO! Everything was completely rewritten in the last 30 pages. Everything, save a few “reveals” , was useless. All that “since birth, she has been training to kill him” was completely false. Because not only did it not really happen, but Nyx never whipped out any assassin skills or super outsmarting manoeuvres. She just whined and moped around the castle looking in rooms (which were described in too much detail for things not relevant to the book at all) about how horrible she and everything was… while also thinking about kissing dudes. That’s it.

I closed the book and all I could think was:

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Why? How? WHAT?

No sense was made. Only time wasted.

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I can’t really tell you what it was about without spoiling it all, but really there wasn’t all that much going on. But at the same time it was like someone threw in so much stuff and then tried to mix it, but it didn’t work so we’re sitting here looking at it like “what is all this stuff??” but we’ll never know because it’s never explained.

Writing

I’m not sure if it was just the story, or if it was a combination of poor story and poor writing. I don’t know. Nothing made any sense. But I can’t tell if that’s because of the narrative of the directionless main character, or if it’s the writing style.

There was a lot of info dumping. And a lot of description that we didn’t need at all.

Everything was really repetitive, as I said at the start.

Things we already knew about were coming up again and again, and I’m not saying Nyx can’t be sad and angst about these things. Not at all. I’m saying that from the readers point of view, reading about the same events/feelings with no new commentary, no new revelations about how she can better deal with those feelings instead of lashing out at people who had nothing to do with them, got tiring really fast. There was a lot of “I’m the sacrifice! THAT’S ALL I AM TO THEM!” and while that may be true sweet pea, are we going to do anything about it or are we just going to talk about how horrible it is to be The Sacrifice for 300 pages??

All Most of the scenes d r a g g e d on into infinity and pretty much all the reveals happened several chapters after they were teased, so by the time they actually happened you not only didn’t care, but you had already figured it all out.

The “story” was slow, dull, repetitive and frustrating.

Maybe Hodge’s writing style just isn’t for me, but to be entirely honest I don’t plan to (or want to) pick up another one of these book (I believe there are companion novels) to test whether or not it was the writing.

Rating

1 out of 5 Stars

There honestly wasn’t anything I liked about this book. I liked the concept, the synopsis made me excited – but I didn’t like the execution, the characters, the world… anything.

This is the lowest rating I’ve ever given to a book, but I can’t for the life of me give it anything more. I feel bad. I know the author must have put in a lot of work, as all authors do, and I don’t think my review or this book are in any way a reflection of the author. Her newer books might be much better than this one.

But I just can’t say that I liked it. That would be a lie.

If you were thinking of giving it a go, maybe you’ll like it more than I did – a lot of people gave it 5 star reviews after all. But as far as I stand:

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone.

This was really long. This is longer than some of the essays I wrote for University. Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. I just started writing and all the confusion and frustration just came pouring out and:

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Have you read Cruel Beauty?? If not, were you planning to?? If you had, what did you think?? If you’ve read the companion, was it any better??

You can find me here too!

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