Cruel Beauty

Rosamund Hodge ★★★/★

Knowing the truth is not always a kindness.

Don't look at the shadows too long or a demon might look back.

New day, new book. 

I cracked the spine of Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge and began my adventure of the retelling of the classical tale, Beauty and the Beast. This retelling follows Nyx, a seventeen-year-old young woman, who has trained and prepared her entire life to marry the demon lord, the Gentle Lord, and avenge her mother's death. Encouraged by her father, aunt, and sister, she marries the handsome Lord and begins her bound life at the Lord's frightening castle. Nyx finds herself faced with complex challenges and internal conflicts as she struggles to avenge her mother while maintaining her morals.

Magic of three for Hodge's retelling:

1. Captivating and Entertaining

Cruel Beauty begins with creative and impressive world-building. I found myself enchanted by the familiar twists of the original fairy tale, which are given a new outlook and spin with Hodge's fresh ideas and innovations. While the traces of the traditional story, such as Nyx's family tragedies, are enjoyable and create a sense of familiarity, the new additions are captivating. For instance, the Gentle Lord's castle brings excitement and suspense to the story as Nyx attempts to find her way through the various, strange, and disturbing doors she finds. Her adventures around the castle are entertaining and allow great world-building and unexpected conflicts.

Also, I enjoyed the characterisation of the protagonist, Nyx. She expresses a great deal of mischief and wit as she refuses to comply with the Lord's demands, making her an impressive and admirable character. Her quick temperament and humour had me cracking up several times. When she enters the castle for the first time with a knife strapped to her body and shouts, "I'm here! Your bride! Congratulations on your marriage!", I was sold. Nyx brings comic relief to the ever-growing tensions and suspense and is a likeable character due to her flaws and internal conflicts. At least to some extent...

2. Predictable and Recycled

Unfortunately, the same inner conflicts that allow Nyx promising character development and vulnerability become irksome and tiring. I found her character development weak as she remained in conflict with herself throughout the novel without any breakthrough or gradual transformation of morals and self-realisation. Eventually, Nyx begins to seem like a naïve and self-absorbed persona and her original spark wears off.

Also, the plot contains many pitfalls. Understandably, as a retelling, the novel follows an already told plot, which is to great extent predictable. However, many of the subplots of the novel also are predictable and obvious, (upcoming spoiler!) such as Shade's betrayal that I foresaw chapters in advance. Additionally, the novel's characters lack depth and dynamic characterisation. While Ignifex portrays the classic wicked bad boy character, and Shade the gentler and more kind love interest, I found them recycled and bland. I wished for more edge and uniqueness, rather than the expected two personas I have read in novels too many times. Furthermore, I disliked the love triangle that arises during Nyx's first night at the castle and found its development agonizing for both the characters and myself, the reader. The instant love that blooms between the characters is unrealistic and the chemistry between Nyx and Ignifex feels rushed. I couldn't help rolling my eyes a few times at Nyx's declarations of love. Just stop. 

3. Fast-paced and reader-friendly 

From beginning to end, Hodge's novel adopts a fast pace and action-packed narration. This approach to storytelling is enjoyable, although towards the end I found myself slightly confused by the resolution and plot. Nevertheless, the quick pace makes the novel a quick and approachable read. However, accompanied by the fast pace, there is an undeniable "showing rather than telling", which weakens character dynamics, such as the chemistry between Nyx and Ignifex that is summarized in a single paragraph narrating all the fun they have together. The language of the novel itself is easy to read, making the novel an accessible read for both younger and older readers.

Overall, Cruel Beauty offers an entertaining read for readers looking for a fast-paced magical story with impressive world building.