I Was Raised to Marry a Monster: A Review of Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty

Photo credit to the Epic Reads website.

In 2014, HarperCollins published Rosamund Hodge’s Cruel Beauty as part of their Epic Reads program. Cruel Beauty, Hodge’s debut novel, is slated among other Young-Adult powerhouses such as the ever popular Divergent series by Veronica Roth and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Marketed as a fairytale retelling meets Greek mythology, Cruel Beauty delivers a rich world of magic and horror, ensnaring readers from the start and refusing to let go until its conclusion.

Cruel Beauty tells the story of Nyx, a seventeen year old girl betrothed to Ignifix, the evil immortal ruler of the land. Due to the bargain her father struck with Ignifix before her birth, Nyx has spent her life training to do just one thing: murder Ignifix and thus break the curse that has shrouded the kingdom in chaos for hundreds of years. Knowing that she must either kill him or die trying like the wives before her, Nyx becomes entangled in a mystery that has haunted the castle since the very curse was put in place. While adjusting to life with a sarcastic trickster demon, she discovers that although Ignifix is very much the monster of nightmares, he is also something more than just that; he’s someone who understands her. Nyx and Ignifix’s understanding of one another gives cause to a budding romance that can only end in disaster and death. Nyx must make the choice between what is her duty and what she wants.

Overall, Cruel Beauty does justice to both the “Beauty and the Beast” tale as well as the mythos of Cupid and Psyche. Hodge’s writing is spectacular, both haunting and encaptivating. She knows how to walk the fine line between having your audience love your characters and having your audience hate your characters. Ignifix, the demon taking the place of both Beast and Cupid, is extremely well-developed. By the end of the novel it is easy to be in love with him as a character despite the fact that he’s more than willing to murder without batting an eye. Hodge uses the romance in the novel well, keeping it as a starting point for Nyx and Ignifix’s character development, rather than turning it into the novel’s sole focus. Cruel Beauty is Nyx’s coming of age story with a romantic element, not a romance novel with Nyx as the title character. This distinction is what sets Hodge’s novel apart from similar fairytale retellings.

In the course of the novel we, as readers, discover that Ignifix is not the only monster in the castle but perhaps Nyx is one too. As a way of breaking the trope of Beauty always being kind, Hodge has Nyx often linger on the angered thought that it should be her sister in Ignifix’s castle, not herself. She hates her family, particularly her father, for betraying her and selling her to this fate. Nyx often feels as if her family never loved her and kept themselves at a distance viewing her simply as the sacrificial lamb that would break the curse and not a true member of the family. During a heated argument, Ignifix says to her: “You fought and fought to keep all the cruelty locked up in your head, and for what? None of them ever loved you, because none of them ever knew you.” (203). Ignifix becomes the only one who understands Nyx and that does not shy away from her own monstrous qualities. Hodge breaks away from the classic archetypes and asks the question: why can the beauty also not be the beast?

Although Cruel Beauty is Hodge’s debut novel, it reads as if it was written by a seasoned author. The novel has many plot twists, some easy to guess from the start and others that take place in the last thirty pages that leave you wanting for more. According to the author, she does not plan for a direct sequel to Cruel Beauty but rather a series of companion novels, each focusing on a different fairytale set in the same universe as Cruel Beauty. Out now is Gilded Ashes, a Cinderella novella, and come May, Hodge’s second full-length novel Crimson Bound—a Red Riding Hood retelling—will be published. If you enjoy retellings of fairytales and mythology or you’re just a fan of fantasy that features complex world-building and trickster demons, I strongly suggest checking out Cruel Beauty. You’ll be in for an adventure you won’t soon forget.

Cruel Beauty

Rosamund Hodge

342 pages. HarperCollins. $17.99

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