Series: Cruel Beauty Universe #1
on January 28th 2014
(352 pages) • Goodreads • Amazon • Barnes & Noble
Graceling meets Beauty and the Beast in this sweeping fantasy about one girl's journey to fulfill her destiny and the monster who gets in her way-by stealing her heart.
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
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 fulfill 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—enthralls 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.
I was really intrigued by this book when it was first released, but I hesitated on reading it for a while. Cristina and I chose Crimson Bound by the same author for one Book Buddies month but I ended up DNFing it (so we chose another book). That made me nervous for this story. However, it was randomly picked by my book club using our new book selection method and I was ready for the push to read it finally. I was cautiously optimistic because I know a lot of people loved this one compared to Crimson Bound or really any others by Hodge.
Summary in a Second
Nyx has been set to marry the Gentle Lord, Ignifex, since she was a baby. Her father made a selfish deal with him and Nyx’s plan is to kill him to set her people free. (It’s kind of a long, complicated story, so I’ll let you investigate that on your own.) It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling so there are definitely similar elements woven through – the castle, being kind of a prisoner, the non-human man thingy keeping you hostage, etc.
Storytelling & Setting
I have to say, I’ve never read a story quite like this one. The world was so vast and explored piece by piece. The writing was gorgeous and somehow way more interesting than Crimson Bound‘s prose. The plot itself was unveiled slowly as Nyx uncovered new secrets and opened hidden doors throughout the castle. She found herself falling for a shadow, Shade, and also learning that Ignifex is not necessarily who or what she expected him to be. I wasn’t exactly annoyed with the love triangle because I actually had a theory about it that led it to be less eye-rolly (except towards the end when it definitely got worse).
I loved watching Nyx explore the castle and see what was hiding in each room. The setting was really interesting, and the larger “Cruel Beauty Universe” seems like it’ll be REALLY fun to learn more about as the series (companion series, I believe?) continues in the same location.
Nyx was such an interesting, complex character. I don’t read a lot of books involving ~villains~ (especially with the main character being the villain instead of a mean side character existing) but I think Nyx had her own way of being a bad girl. She was so angry and fueled by hate the entire time; it was kind of badass. I didn’t expect to enjoy that so much because I’m more of a fluff kind of gal. In any case, I was really intrigued to see how she learned about everything in the castle and dealt with her emotions.
Ignifex was obviously also a very complicated character. I didn’t like how he treated her at the beginning and the ways he got physical with her. However, he did experience some growth I guess as he opened up to her a little more? I wouldn’t say he was a good person, but he was definitely complex like Nyx.
All the Feels
Obviously Nyx and Ignifex were imperfect, fairly bad people, so it was fun to watch them accept each other for all their flaws. Because she resisted so hard and pushed him away throughout the book, it was pretty miraculous that he was like yep I still like this girl somehow. (The quote a few sections below basically sums it up)
So, What’s the Problem?
Part of this is my issue because of how I dealt with reading/listening to the book. I started out with the audiobook to get some progress for my book club meeting, but didn’t pay as much attention as I could have. The narrator’s voice really bugged me and I think I missed out on some key setup information. (Maybe a plot summary somewhere will help clarify?) In any case, I didn’t fully understand like half of the backstory or how their world is set up. It led to a bit of confusion later on, but it was easier to read than listen to for sure. The mythology in general was hard to understand sometimes. There were Greek gods and goddesses that I knew of, mixed in with other gods that I hadn’t heard of. I’m not sure if they’re based on anything or if the author made them up, but it created a weird hybrid of real and fake information for me.
I’m not a person who has ~issues~ with love triangles (for lots of reasons), but I do have some preferences for how I’m okay with them. I was sick of this one because it continued way longer than I wanted it to. However, my prediction about it basically ended up being true. View Spoiler »I kind of figured that Shade and Ignifex were one in the same, in some way. It couldn’t bother me too much but it was frustrating at the time. I had a good feeling my theory was true so I was able to think of it THAT way throughout and it was easier, I guess. « Hide Spoiler
About that Ending
I was confused, as usual, but ended up being really impressed once I (mostly) figured it out! I had predicted a certain thing that ended up being true in some regard, so that wasn’t as shocking as it perhaps could have been. I knew that there would also be another THING that would happen as well, but no spoilers.
“He had clung to me in the night. He had saved my life twice. He had seen me, in all my ugliness, and never hated me; and in that moment, nothing else mattered.” (p. 235-6)
I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for a unique, dark, retelling. You won’t find another quite like it. It actually reminded me of another story I’ve read but I seriously cannot think of it for the life of me right now. In any case, the world-building was really cool, the hate-to-love villain(s) were great, and the ending wowed me at times. Because I was ultimately more confused than not, I settled at a 3.5 star rating.
Quick & Dirty
Describe it in a word: mystical
Recommended for readers who: like unique retellings
Drink this beverage with it: wine at the cemetery
Recommended overall? yes!
Thoughts in a Gif
|Plot & Premise|
|Pacing & Flow|
|Feels or Swoons|
Oh, sorry to hear you didn’t finish Crimson Bound. It’s my favorite book by this author. I liked Cruel Beauty too. Ignifex is one of my favorite villains. Gilded Ashes set in the same “Cruel Beauty Universe”, it was good, though too short.
Yeah he was definitely an interesting villain. I’m excited for Gilded Ashes – it sounds like it’d be up my alley.
HAHAHAHAHA “the non-human man thingy keeping you hostage” I’m sorry I find the way you phrased this SO funny. I’m literally like rolling on the floor laughing right now (Clearly I need to go to bed).
Anyways I’m glad you liked this one! I really liked the romance and the world building (although TBH I was so confused by the ending and still am). I sadly have not found myself to be captivated by any of Hodge’s other books yet (I DNF’d Crimson Bound along with you and am stuck in the middle of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire). I didn’t know this was going to be a “series”?!
Hahaha, I have no idea how else to describe him/it!!!
I was definitely way too confused about the ending. I still don’t really get it lol. I want to read her others, but I have no idea if I’ll continue with them because they seem to be hit or miss for everyone haha.
Sounds like an interesting read! Unique and confusing, but interesting. It’s on my radar because of all the praise but I’m a little hesitant to pick it up. Not sure it’ll be my review. Great review!
Yes, definitely unique!
Yesss I absolutely loved CB when I read it and it was so fascinating and an unexpected twist on B&B. I love how complex Nyx was and Ignifex was an interesting addition as well. I’m glad to hear that you ended up really enjoying it, Lauren!
Super complex characters can make for really interesting books! I enjoyed it for sure.