Obviously, after Angie reviewed this book, I had to read it. Because ever since I first read Robin McKinley’s “Beauty” when I was 12 or so, I’ve been a sucker for Beauty and the Beast retellings. And “Cruel Beauty” is a fairly unique retelling, I think. It’s Beauty and the Beast, yes, but it also incorporates a lot of Greek mythology and other elements of ancient Greece. And I personally thought it had a bit of a Bluebeard flair as well.
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.
On the character front, Nyx was a bit of an interesting main character. I didn’t find her all that likeable at first. I felt bad for her and her situation sure, but the malice in her heart, as Ignifex terms it, made me a little leery. But then she goes ahead and punches Ignifex about 5 seconds after meeting him, and that’s when I realized we'd be getting along just fine after all. And really, I think the fact that Ignifex sees her malice and bitterness and likes her anyway made it somehow easier for me to do the same.
And speaking of Ignifex, now there’s an enemy I can get behind. He reminded me a bit of a darker version of Howl, from “Howl’s Moving Castle,” so in other words I really adored him. The book’s atmosphere is fairly heavy and serious overall, so the occasional relief that Ignifex brings from that was much appreciated. But really, I think the thing I love most about Ignifex is that he sees all Nyx’s flaws and likes her better because of them. And I still have no idea how to pronounce his name.
Shade, I was kinda meh about. His personality was as gray as his appearance, and I spent most of the book trying to figure out if the author intended me to develop feelings for him, or if he was just a character necessary to moving the plot along. Honestly, most of the scenes between Nyx and Shade I spent wishing were with Nyx and Ignifex instead, because those two have got all kinds of chemistry going on.
Overall, I think that not only was it a pretty dang satisfying retelling of Beauty and the Beast, but the author did a good job at making the story her own as well. I could’ve used a little more time spent on relationship development (Nyx seems to have this habit of falling in love just from kissing a guy once), but other than that I don’t have many complaints.
Rating: 4 / 5