Author: Rosamund Hodge
Genre: Fantasy, YA, PNR, AWESOME, Retellings
Publication Date: January 28, 2014 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Synopsis: Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.
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.
☆: 5/5 stars – An absolutely mindblowing debut from Hodge!
Review: Man, I’d been hearing some great things about this book before I even picked it up, but I didn’t expect to be this blown away by a 2014 debut. “Cruel Beauty” isn’t just a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast”, but it also mixes in alternate histories/universes and Greco-Roman mythology. Oh, and ass-kicking females. Which definitely got my attention. Guys, this book is a total breath of fresh air for YA, and I’ve already reread it once before doing this review. If you’re looking for a really amazing fairy retelling with a lot of other elements thrown in, “Cruel Beauty” is definitely the book you need to pick up this year in terms of debuts.
Where do I start? Where can I start? In all technical areas that I usually look at (worldbuilding, narrative, voice/tone, character building, plots, arcs, sensory imagery and language), “Cruel Beauty” exceeded (more like smashed through) every single expectation I had going into reading it from page one onward. Nyx draws you in immediately with her narrative, enticing you into a world that might have been – a universe where Greece and Rome co-existed side by side as empires, both trying to conquer the fabled kingdom of Arcadia (Greek mythology buffs, here’s your cue to get excited), where demons and shadows and magic are all possible and are actively oppressing you, where girls are weapons created to save the world.
Now look at that plot line and all of those plot elements right there. How could you NOT want to read this book?
Going into things, I could see where a lot of these elements could fail. I was more than a bit worried about that. What if it all didn’t match up? What if the worldbuilding was shoddy? But from page one, Hodge has a voice that you can’t help but get sucked in by, and by that point, I was hooked. I had to have more. I finished the entire book within a day, and I still wanted more. Everything, more or less, was perfect. And it was so nice to have a YA debut be able to not only hit all of those technical marks, but just run them over with how perfect the writing was. The characters and world were rich in flavor and originality, and all of the integrated elements of this retelling were tight, precise, and expertly wrought. When reading it, it didn’t feel like reading a debut author’s work.
Because of all of this technical perfectness, for this review instead I’ll talk more about what I found most interesting: Hodge’s integration of Jung’s idea of the shadow self.
First, let’s start with the definition of the shadow self (via wikipedia):
In Jungian psychology, the shadow or “shadow aspect” may refer to (1) an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. Because one tends to reject or remain ignorant of the least desirable aspects of one’s personality, the shadow is largely negative, or (2) the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. There are, however, positive aspects which may also remain hidden in one’s shadow (especially in people with low self-esteem).
Spoiler alert: there literally is a shadow that’s a person (I won’t say who, though), and therefore has a self. This is a very important aspect to this book, and I do think that Hodge may be, in fact, a Jungian in terms of psychology because hints of the shadow self – Nyx’s name comes from the Greek goddess of shadows, night, and darkness. There are a lot of aspects to Nyx herself here that make the general Jungian statement about the shadow self and recognition of it (“acknowledgement of the shadow must be a continuous process throughout one’s life”) feel very true and give us insight into who Nyx is until she starts to accept that aspect of herself she’s been literally trying to battle on the outside (and concerning her sister, on the inside) for her entire life. It isn’t until Nyx starts to accept the shadow self (not just that of the one character who I will not name, but her own) that her life starts to improve, and she starts to feel hopeful that the entire enterprise of her childhood of training will pay off. And when she accepts that self further, she actually starts to become happy.
And when she becomes happy, the shadow self within her own self begins to merge with her true self, and the other character’s shadow self starts to do the same. When one accepts the shadow, one’s own darkness, things start to get a little easier. One recognizes one’s capacity for evil and other generally bad things, and the guilt one may carry around about that eases. As in, the shadow self is just one part of the whole, it’s one side of the coin. Join it together with its other, sunnier part, and you have a whole self. Without not only recognizing and accepting that other piece of self, one lives a sort of half-life – which is what we see from ALL of the characters in “Cruel Beauty”.
I’m only talking about Nyx here because she is the MC, and covering Ignifex is not only difficult, but really too spoilery for this review. But I do think it’s very interesting that Hodge took a very Jungian approach to building Nyx as a protagonist, and integrated other elements into the antagonist(s) of the story. Did she mean to do it? I’m extremely interested to know the answer to that question. Regardless of my own musings on this topic, I loved every inch of this book, and I’m so glad a novella has been announced, because I’m pretty much dying to have more of this world with Ignifex, Nyx, and the rest.
“Cruel Beauty” is out January 28, 2014 in North America from HarperTeen, folks. Miss it, and you definitely miss one of the best books of the last few years, hands down. I think I need to go read it again.