Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beauty and the Beast in an Alternate Universe

When I heard that Cruel Beauty was an imaginative retelling of Beauty and the Beast, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Once I did, I plowed through it like a bull in a china shop. The beginning of the novel was so engrossing and spine-chilling, that I couldn't seem to slow my reading pace.

Nyx is betrothed (naturally, against her will) to the demon-god, Ignifex, who lives in the crumbling castle on the outskirts of her village. Nyx has known her whole life that this day would come and has been training to kill the man who is destined to be her husband.

How did she find herself as his wife, you might ask? Let us turn our attention to the father. Oh, you will really hate this man. Before Nyx and her twin sister were born, their mother had been unable to conceive a child, so their father foolishly asked that the "Gentle Lord," as he's known, grant them children and promised one of his daughters to the Gentle Lord in exchange. Sadly, he loses his wife to childbirth in the bargain. The Gentle Lord's bargaining always comes with an unforeseen price and Nyx must keep her father's bargain. 

Long before the wedding day, Nyx devised a plan to seduce and kill the Gentle Lord and save her people from the 900 year-old curse that he put upon them. Her fate may be decided for her, but she won't go without a fight. However, once she finds herself inside the castle, she's mystified by the castle's shifting hallways, magical rooms, and most surprisingly, the Gentle Lord himself. His wicked grin entices her, his words are riddles begging to be solved, and his secrets are endless. As she begins her quest to save her people from his curse, the more of his secrets she discovers. Why does the Gentle Lord's shadow act apart from him like they're two separate beings? Why are many of the library's books blotted out or devoid of words? Why does she find herself drawn to the demon who terrorized her people for centuries, whose hands are stained with the blood of thousands of innocents? But things are never that simple. Soon, she realizes that her beast is not entirely evil, and that perhaps he, too, is a prisoner forced into a fate that he can't control.

Let's talk about "the beast" for a moment (or more). Traditionally, the beast is a literal beast- he's ugly and monstrous. His physical appearance is so repulsive that it should be impossible for anyone to love him. That is not the case in Cruel Beauty. He is smoking hot. ". . . He had one of the most beautiful faces I had ever seen," says Nyx at one point. He has red cat-eyes and his grin will make the beholder weak. He laughs at her people's misfortunes, thinking them stupid for willingly making bargains with him and turning angry when they go awry. Nyx would love nothing more than to reveal his weakness and end his life. As their relationship grows closer, Nyx realizes that she's not so different from the Gentle Lord; she, too, has an evil side. Nyx has serious resentment, borderline hatred, towards her twin sister and she hates her father for bargaining her away. In an article about her book, the author, Rosamund Hodge, says that she wanted to change the importance of physical beauty in her retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale. Instead of asking, "how can someone love me when I look this ugly," she instead asks, "how can someone love me if I'm ugly on the inside?" The beauty that lies within has more power to overcome evil. Additionally, she asks if it's possible to give love if you have none within yourself? For me, this was one of the major selling points of the novel.

Rosamund Hodge, the author, properly describes this book as Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast. While I didn't quite get all of the mythological references (and there were MANY), the book makes sense without knowing any of them. Although, if you know it's going to drive you crazy to feel left out, read this while having Google at the ready.

Other fantastic fairy tale retellings:
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas- this Cinderella retelling will blow your mind. The series is great for anyone who loves a strong female heroine and paranormal intrigue.
The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman- a retelling of many classic fairy tales full of mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal- Another mash-up of Grimm fairy tales. In McNeal's book, Jeremy Johnson Johnson can hear voices, specifically that of Jacob Grimm, one of the authors of many of the world's well-known fairy tales, and learns that not all tales end happily.

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