"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
When I first had the opportunity to obtain a review copy, I didn't because I'd checked out some early reviews and wasn't entirely convinced that I'd like the book. Then I started seeing a lot of high-rated reviews from my friends and started wondering whether I'd been a bit hasty. And I had, my friends. I had, because this book is now one of my favorites of 2014.
If you like the Goddess Test novels by Aimee Carter... Everneath by Brodi Ashton...The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski... The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas(publisher/blurb suggested)... Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas (publisher/blurb suggested)... this novel may appeal to you. If you liked These Broken Stars by Megan Spooner and Amie Kaufman, this is a sort of similar narrative but in a high fantasy (rather than science fiction) oriented setting. I haven't read Beastly by Alex Flynn or Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay, but I imagine this novel will appeal to those fans as well. I will have to think more on other comparisons. In general, if you are a fantasy lover, give this novel a chance.
Ignore the comparison to Graceling. Maybe the only similarity I noticed was a strong, intense protagonist - I don't even think the feel of either book is similar. I'm not really sure why that's the marketing phrase. The author's GR bio with CB described as"Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast" is much more accurate.
In your fairy tale retellings, how much do you want your retelling to be like the original story? I'm not terribly familiar with other versions of Beauty and the Beast, but to me this book falls on the line of taking the concept of monster-and-human-romance but not sticking strictly to the retelling's demands. (It also seems like a mash-up of various retellings). This aspect allowed Rosamund Hodge to take a lot of risks that make this book stand out from other retellings.
Do you ever get annoyed / bored by the trope of protagonist-sacrificing-self-for-younger-sibling? Rosamund Hodge actually delivers on the sisterly bond - it's not an empty, one-girl-is-always-helpless and entirely uneven relationship. Nyx is human. Nyx resents having to sacrifice herself, but she has been trained to do right by her family. She both loves and hates her sister. This strikes me as being not only realistic but also incredibly refreshing for YA.
Are you open to the idea of love triangles and insta-love? A.) This "love triangle" doesn't actually strike me as a typical love triangle. It's there at times, but for a majority of the novel, it is not a cogent force hitting you with dramatic angst. B.) It is also purposeful, and not just to reflect a heroine's varying desires/visions of her future. C.)This book doesn't actually make me think of insta-love, but I know that some readers might think of it that way, so reading the romance with an open mind will help.
Do you want to read a standalone fantasy? Perhaps this is where the comparison to Graceling comes from - Cruel Beauty has a satisfying ending and a world that leaves room for further companion novels.
Are you okay with your characters being flawed? I love books that make me want to root for characters who've done shitty things. Look at that summary. Look at what Ignifex has done. And yet I actually liked him as a romantic interest. There is no romanticization of what he does or who he is. He is gentle and cruel, arrogant and soft. And Nyx is not exactly perfect either. Her flaws and her anger do somewhat remind me of Katsa, and I loved her all the more for them. If you get the chance to read an excerpt of the novel, do so and sample Nyx's PoV for yourself.
Are you ready to have your mind blown? Because this book takes things to another level. The Greek mythology aspects are unlike anything I've read in YA. The gods bit reminds me slightly of Megan Whalen Turner's series and how Hodge also manages the belief and rituals of people in another pseudo-historical time. There are attempt to ease you into the world-building via info-dumps/occasional exposition, but otherwise you must hold onto things yourself. The plot is twisty and complicated and sometimes unpredictable, and will challenge you. The hero and heroine are remarkably flawed individuals but believable characters nonetheless who stand out for their flaws, who accept and love them in one another. The romance sometimes takes center stage over the "assassin" plot and that's for good reason. The book steadily builds toward its climax and resolution but is slower than more action-oriented YA novels. The writing is gorgeous, somewhere between purposeful, practical prose and poetic lilt. It is somewhat similar to Cashore's writing, but slightly less literary and also told from a first person point of view. In general: I highly recommend this novel.
My only complaint is that I'm still a tad confused about some things. This book is so twisty and different that my mind still needs to process some of what happened. There is also an info dump at the start of the second chapter, but it's not that long and you can probably skim it to get the gist of the land's history. If you DNFed because of that info dump, please try again and skip past that section. It gets better.
An excellent, excellent debut. I am pre-ordering Cruel Beauty, and I am looking forward to reading more from Rosamund Hodge. (Especially that Cinderella novella).
(lol, I can never say "mini review" with authority, can I???? Damn. I suppose mini review just means I am too lazy to write a "list" format review.)
Random: I just remembered that I once said I'd characterize characters with Myers-Briggs in my reviews. I'd say Nyx is an INTP. She holds a lot in, seems to prefer the company of few like an introvert. She sees the bigger picture and while she feels things strongly, I'd say a majority of her decisions are guided by a more "logical" sense of duty. She's also impulsive. Ignifex is harder to characterize. All together, I'd say ISFP. Those of you who've read the book, care to chime in?
[5 stars] Blythe at Finding Bliss in Books - "Let me say it now: Cruel Beauty is one fantastic, gorgeously written, spectacularly dark debut."
[4 stars] Christina at A Reader of Fictions - "That was confusing and gorgeous and dark and wonderful."
[3 stars] Giselle at Xpresso Reads - "Cruel Beauty is really confusing, even kind of a mess at first, but eventually the story does paint a gorgeous, dangerous picture."
[2 stars] Ashley at Nose Graze - "SIGH. That's how I feel about Cruel Beauty ."