Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Released: January 28th 2014
My Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads
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. (from Goodreads)
I am a massive fan of fairy-tale retellings, so when I heard about Cruel Beauty, I knew I had to read it. And honestly, it was probably one of the best retellings I've read in a while. Unpredictable and dark and mysterious, Cruel Beauty was exactly what I wanted it to be and more.
Nyx was a brilliant main character. She was the unloved child in her family - everybody preferred her twin sister, Astraia, and it was because of this that Nyx was the one who was chosen to marry the Gentle Lord. For her whole life, Nyx had been trained for her fate while her sister got all the love and attention, and her father never once seemed to regret the bargain he made with the Gentle Lord to sacrifice one of his daughters. Astraia had their mother's (who died during childbirth) face, while Nyx looked more like her father, and though Nyx did love her sister deep down, she couldn't help but resent her. In fact, she was full of resentment (as we all might be in such a situation) and hate bubbled inside her constantly. She hated her father most, even though all she ever wanted was to be acknowledged by him, but she also hated her aunt and the whole facade they both put up in front of Astraia to spare her feelings. She tried to be a good sister and most of the time managed to hide her true feelings and mask them with a smile. But on the day of her wedding, the day she had to be brave and put on a calm face to face her fate, it just got too much for Nyx, and she lashed out at Astraia, intentionally trying to hurt her. The funny thing about Nyx was that after everything, she still felt guilty for what she said, and both revelled in the pain she caused and wished she could take it back. This happened often - people would do horrible things she didn't agree with, she would say something awful to or about them, but then she would feel bad and try to justify their behaviour in some way. She would even help her enemies because she couldn't stand the way the guilt was gnawing away at her. It was an endless cycle of loathing. I think she probably hated herself most of all; she thought she was a terrible person for constantly thinking such terrible and vicious things, and she knew she would be willing to do anything, even if that meant betraying a loved one, if she truly believed it had to be done. She was not "pure of heart" as many heroines in fairy tales are portrayed to be, and she knew it. She had a darker side and she was broken and that's why she was prepared to die for her mission - as she said one chapter, she did not go to the castle to be saved.
Ignifex was a very fascinating character, and at first, I had no idea what to make of him. At the start, he seemed to be a villain who thought other people's lives were just all fun and games and a source of his amusement. He had a shadow, Shade, who he had apparently trapped to become his slave, and all in all Ignifex seemed to be the very monster everyone thought he was, though one who laughed and enjoyed irony. Shade in contrast was the poor lost soul whose freedom was stolen from him, who showed kindness to Nyx and who wanted to get rid of Ignifex no matter the cost. However, what I loved about Cruel Beauty was there were no clear-cut "good or evil" characters. All of them were a mix of both and I could never work out who to trust. I kept asking myself "who is who here?" trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad, but there were so many switches and confusing actions that I had to conclude that no-one was one set thing. People who would typically be called "bad" believed they were justified in their actions and those trying to do "good" did so many awful things for the cause. Ignifex seemed to be evil at first, but after learning his background, and his reasons for his actions, it was hard to hate him. He was not blameless of course, he could still be called a monster, but I could sympathise with him. I wasn't sure how I would feel about a romance between Nyx and Ignifex seeing as he was responsible for her mother's death and the entrapment of Arcadia, but it was actually one of the most intriguing romances I've read. While I thought the word "love" was thrown about a bit too quickly (especially in Shade's case - that was a total insta-love weird relationship that made little sense - I get he was nice to her, but whaaat? They barely knew each other!), it was interesting. Usually I wouldn't like a romance like this where one character was the reason the other character's life was so messed up because usually the messed up party would be like "I know they have done oh so many terrible things but I am so pure and good on the inside, I can definitely forgive them for what they've done lalala" and it would just be weird and unbalanced and creepy. But this time was different, because Nyx herself was terrible and willing to do terrible things, and she did NOT forgive Ignifex. The reason Nyx was able to fall in love with a monster was because she believed herself to be almost a monster herself, to be capable of doing such an awful thing, and of course, what are a few atrocities between monsters? The whole time, she continued wanting to stop Ignifex. Firstly out of hatred and revenge and to free the land, and then later on to free him from his own kind of prison. She acknowledged the bad things he had done and never forgot them, but continued to be with him nonetheless, because the only person who understood her, who knew her the most, was this monster of a man. So what did that make her? But even if we ignore all this profound stuff, Nyx and Ignifex had a lot of chemistry, and I loved their conversations which could be a mixture of hilarious and sweet and crazy all at the same time. Ignifex was arrogant and over-confident and very funny at times but he was able to make Nyx feel worth more than she'd ever felt back at home. He cared about her more than he ever expected to and vice versa, and they made the strangest and yet most captivating pair.
Plot-wise, so much went on that I would never have guessed. The meeting with Shade surprised me and it took a turn I didn't expect and so many things happened that made me keep asking "where is this going?", because I honestly couldn't work it out. I did guess the revelation about the prince pretty early on, but honestly, it didn't bother me, because there were so many other mysterious things going on. I really loved the mythology aspects and the stories weaved in and how everything somehow connected to something else. My only complaints would be the insta-lovey parts (if "love" were replaced with "like" it would have been so much better) and the ending, because I would have liked things to have been explained more as it was a bit vague and I didn't really get how the things that happened, happened.
Overall, I really enjoyed Cruel Beauty and loved the way mythology and fairy-tale were brought together. Recommended to fans of retellings, mythology and forbidden romances.