Alexis: Read 4/16/19
Why do I always really enjoy the first half of a book, only to really dislike the second half? That’s how I felt about Cruel Beauty.
Cruel Beauty is a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I’m a fan of fairytale retellings, and I actually took a seminar on Beauty and the Beast while I was in college. But what’s different about this retelling is that it blends the fairytale with Greek and Roman mythology and history.
The story is set sometime after the fall of Rome in Romana-Graecia, in a fictional land called Arcadia that was cut off from the rest of the world and held captive underground by the Gentle Lord. The Gentle Lord makes cruel bargains with the people of his land and sometimes sets his demons on them. The Greek and Roman influence was an interesting change of pace, as the original Beauty and the Beast story is from France. I love Greek mythology, and I loved the mix of Latin and Greek terms, history, and terminology. The stories told in the book took me back to my Latin classes.
In this book, the magic is called the Hermetic arts. The main character, Nyx, was trained by her father in this art, which is connected to the four elements. Nyx can use sigils to sort of control the “hearts” of each symbol. While this sounds interesting, not only was the magic never explained any deeper, but it was never useful in the story.
Here’s a basic outline of the plot: When Nyx’s parents couldn’t have children, Nyx’s father made a bad bargain with the Gentle Lord. Nyx’s mother bore twins but died in childbirth. The Gentle Lord required that Nyx be married to him, while Nyx’s sister could live free for the rest of her life. So the book opens up with Nyx marrying the Gentle Lord, who’s also called Ignifex.
I really did enjoy the first half of the book. All of the original aspects of Beauty and the Beast are there: the roses, the mirror, the enchanted castle, the question every night, and a beastly prince of sorts. Nyx’s mission is to kill Ignifex in order to save her land from his terrible reign. The first half focuses on her exploring the castle and trying to find its Hermetic hearts, which was my favorite part of the story.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Nyx, who mostly complained about her tragic fate and battled with her intense hate for her family and Ignifex. But I appreciated that she was a strong female character who made her own choices and expressed her strong emotions. Her relationship with her sister was weird, and as a twin myself, it didn’t feel like a true twin relationship, though some of it was intentional due to the characters’ circumstances. To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the characters except for Shade.
As for the second half, there’s a really weird love triangle that didn’t work for the story. The plot starts to go downhill and then becomes convoluted. Nyx and Ignifex’s relationship is abusive, with Nyx hitting him basically every chapter and Ignifex being emotionally abusive. Nyx remembers an important plot-point only to forget about it until the very end, which was supremely annoying. There’s no clear antagonist. And the ending has a weird alternative time thing that’s even hard to describe.
I obviously have a lot of thoughts about this book. I was pleasantly surprised by the first half and disappointed in the second half. If the ending was different, this would’ve been a solid read!
VERDICT: First half: 4 stars
Second half: 2 stars
Total: 3 stars