Before we go into this review, there's something I'd like you to know (or you could just skip this and read the review, no pressure): It's been four months since I last posted something on this blog, and no, I'm not adopting a once-in-a-four-month blogging schedule.
I'll spare you my (hopefully-not-mid)-life crisis; in short, I'm sort of in a blogging slump, if that's possible. Being absent from the blogging world for too long seems to have this side effect. I'm not quitting blogging, but I want to take a break for a while and find out what I really want to do (I know, deep.) So yeah, just to let you know, I'm not dead yet, and I'll be back eventually. I know I haven't been commenting on other people's blogs for god knows how long, so thanks for coming and reading my blog nonetheless. I love you humans (and non-humans, if you feel excluded.)
This is a review that I wrote a while ago. Enjoy.
Title: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
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.
HIGHLIGHT TEXT FOR SPOILERS
This book in a sentence? Confusing as hell. (That should have been the subtitle but that way the title would as well be confusing as hell, so nah.) And don't get me wrong, confusing doesn't mean bad. There are good kinds of confusing (aka complex) and bad kinds of confusing (aka WTF), and this book has quite a lot of both.
Every freaking one is complex (well perhaps except Ignifex). The main characters all have so many different sides of personality and layers of emotion. Nyx is the best -- she has both poison and wine in her heart (what, no, I'm not referencing any particular song), and I especially love the struggle she has with her own little malice, which is also a huge driving force in the book. She's dark, resentful, yet loyal, and she hates the one that she wants to love. Besides that, there's a lot of conflict happening in the sense and sensibility department, and it doesn't help that both sides aren't absolute right or wrong.
Her sister is another really interesting character; she doesn't get much screen time, but the dynamic between her and Nyx is fascinating, and there's amazing development and revelation of personality for both of them. Ignifex is the hardest one to figure out though, perhaps it's because I imagined him as the ultimate evilness from the start, and it doesn't help that I find no reason for Nyx to fall in love the him. At all. Unless you count the handsome face and the unexpected sprouts of kindness. Yeah, he's not entirely the culprit to all of the sufferings, but it's not like he's innocent either. He's gained some personality towards the end due to previous events, but then there's practically no foundation to build on, so the personality change turned out to be a bit random. Ironically, it's Shade, his (kinda) shadow, that has more personality and whose doings and motives are more understandable. The Big Revelation about Shade and Ignifex doesn't make much sense, either. The Kindly Ones (okay, so are they separate people? or just one character? there's only one that appears but why the plural?) promised to take out all the evil in Lux, so she extracted it and made it Ignifex, but he doesn't seem to be all that cruel and evil?? And Shade isn't entirely benevolent?? But if it weren't that way then what's the point of The Kindly Ones doing that? The explanation I came up with is that The Kindly One's' magic didn't' work , but then what about the previous bargains and mythologies? So yeah, the romance and the magic didn't really work for me, though I do like Nyx and Ignifex's interaction. Some sworn enemy. *smirks*
As for the retelling, although it's clear in the title and the blurb that it's Beauty and the Beast, I found a lot more than that, and I love it -- it has a big part of Bluebeard story line in it, there's a bit of Rumpelstiltskin weaved in cleverly, also: Big Bang Two (Doctor Who, anyone? seriously, I don't care who comes first, this part is glorious), and there are plenty of Greek mythology elements incorporated, although I'm not quite satisfied with the last one. The first two really fit the story, perhaps this has something to do with both stories featuring a castle with some evil lord, or just that whole medieval feel; the Greek mythology is pretty cool, but it doesn't mesh well with the medieval atmosphere. My favourite part, however, is the legend of Tom-a-lone that the author created herself. The ritual that the villagers hold annually, its parallel to Nyx's story, its constant appearances in the book -- all of it is quite ingenious, so look out for that if you're planning to read the book.
As I said, Cruel Beauty has its WTF moments. Apart from the completely random romance, the ending befuddled me like it cut my head off and threw it in a wonky washing machine and then put it back on my neck again upside down. I mean, I do like how it is connected to the previous storyline, and the twist is definitely breathtaking but there's too much happening at once, (the sparrow? a handful of kindness? what riddle? and how did the kindly ones make a self-destructing bargain??) Many of it aren't clearly explained, which left me quite disappointed. There are a lot of things that holds delicious potential, but what I get is a tangled mess instead.
There are some themes that I find very interesting: bargaining and whether either side has the right to make one that is morally unacceptable and hiding a catch in it; Nyx's longing for familial love; dealing with the darkness that every one of us has inside our heart; ambiguity in good and evil, etc. (though I think the last one contradicts itself because of the existence of kings before Lux? If his struggles with the darkness within mean that he's not pure enough to be king, does that mean previous kings are all absolutely good and kind? what kind of ambiguity is that then?!)
This is a book that definitely requires rereading, it helps straightening the tangled timeline, and cross-referencing The Explanation and the situation described earlier in the book is quite fun as well. The book is a bit too short for its many unexplained things in it, but its layered characters are worth exploring.
click this link for timeline drawn by moi, which probably doesn't really make any more sense but oh well
Have you read Cruel Beauty? What do you think of it? WERE YOU CONFUSED? Any Whovians out there? Tell me! And as usual, thanks so much for reading! (any tips for spoiler tags though? this review is a mess.)