I think I am wicked enough to love a demon.
Cruel Beauty is a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast that isn’t as sweet and lovely like its Disney counterpart. Cruel Beauty is dark and somber, but also terribly romantic. Not only is it a story about love, but it is also a story about duty, justice, the darkness we all bear in the small corners of our hearts, and also fierce, unyielding love.
Set in Arcadia, a world where fear of demons is ever-present, Hermetic magic is a way of life, and Greek lore and mythology are intimately intertwined with reality. In this story, Rosamund Hodge takes the would-be Virgin Sacrifice and gives it voice. Nyx, a young girl who has been prepared all her life to marry and then kill the Gentle Lord, the demon ruler of Arcadia, is, to her family, a sacrifice for her people, and a means to avenge her dead mother. As a result, rather than the pure and kindhearted Belle that we are familiar with in Beauty and the Beast, Nyx is resentful and bitter, conscious of her condition as a weapon and sacrifice rather than a person with her own future.
Nyx is a flawed protagonist, but it is her flaws that make her voice so compelling. The prose is inherently introspective, so we get to see all the hues and shades of Nyx’s mind – we see her moments of courage, of strength, of shame, of loss, and of weakness. The streams of consciousness is wonderfully done, and we gain insight to her thoughts and feelings uninterrupted. Furthermore, the internal conflict within Nyx, as she is torn between doing her duty and doing what she feels is best – a sort of Freudian conflict between the id and the subconscious – is explored.
Cruel Beauty also does something that I didn’t expect: it raises some very important questions about justice and the right thing. What if leaving someone to die was justice? What if doing the right thing would make you regret your actions forever? Cruel Beauty may also be about forbidden love, but it was also an exploration of righteousness, sin, justice, the soul, and conscience.
And the romance! I was a cynic at first, but Hodge’s immaculate writing won me over. Though there were moments where the romance felt choppy, I think the love that Hodge portrayed in this book was… well, beautiful. Really beautiful, raw, and heartfelt. Perhaps the love is doomed from the start because of their circumstances, but their love was without deceit and unconditional. I think there is much to be said to love someone despite what you may see in their hearts and soul; to see a darkness, malice, flaws, pain and imperfections, but to still love despite. To me, that is true love. The ending also made me sob so terribly; I’m a sucker for (spoiler, highlight: love transcending one life into the next.)
I really enjoyed Cruel Beauty, more than I thought I would but I love being proved wrong when it comes to books. All at once introspective, well-written, magical, mysterious and romantic, Cruel Beauty is a worthy retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
Book Name: Cruel Beauty
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Publisher: Balzer + Bray