I’ve decided to kick things off by reviewing my favorite book from last year.
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge is a Beauty and the Beast retelling in a Greece-inspired alternate world that also had a Tam Lin element towards the end. It was far more fun, original, and sexy than I’d have guessed…though I do wish it had been published in the NA genre so some of the constraints could have come off.
At the start our cruel heroine Nyx is preparing for her impending nuptials to the Gentle Lord, a demon prince who has been lording over the island of Arcadia since it became cursed. She has been groomed her entire life for this task, to marry and kill her husband and save her world.
For all her alleged cruelty, I found Nyx to mostly be resentful of her less-than-stellar family and suspicious of her new partner. She has a clear focused mind, a sharp tongue, and is mostly a good person. We all have anger issues and being raised as a sacrificial lamb probably isn’t going to help alleviate them. She wasn’t a diva or particularly ego driven, therefore I found her to be refreshingly mature as far as YA heroines go.
Our Gentle Lord goes by the name of Ignifax, which we immediately learn is not his real name, a fact that plays an important part of the tale. Nyx is surprised (though we are not) to discover he is beautiful, all kinds of sexy, and for the most part treats her well…though both Nyx and the reader aren’t sure of his nature. I enjoyed seeing some echoes of the fairy tale Bluebeard also worked into a part of this story.
Nearly the entire book takes place in Ignifax’s mysterious castle, where we discover some odd rooms and peculiar objects that give strong hints to the nature of the curse over Arcadia. I enjoyed the stories tight focus on the only three people living in the castle, Ignifax, Nyx, and shadowy ethereal servant Shade. This wasn’t a big epic tale with a cast of colorful characters and in this case I’m glad.
Things turn south once Nyx returns home for a spell and is forced to make some choices between love and duty. I thought this played out in a way both beautiful and original. It is here also where the echoes of Tam Lin came through, as Ignifax and Nyx interact with beings known as the Kindly Ones.
Cruel Beauty was my favorite book of last year, it was romantic, sexy, poignant, and sad.
I leave you with a snippet…
“I would do it again and again. Every night I would torment you and laugh. Do you understand? You are never safe with me.” I drew a shuddering breath, trying to will away the sting of tears.
He opened his eyes and stared up at me as if I were the door out of Arcadia and back to the true sky. “That’s what makes you my favorite.” He reached up and wiped a tear off my cheek with his thumb. “Every wicked bit of you.”