Tuesday, December 24, 2013
ARC Review: Cruel Beauty
Balzer + Bray, 2014
YA Mythical Fantastical Fairy-Tale Romance
Scheduled to release January 28, 2014
Source: Received an e-ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
I read and am reviewing this book a bit earlier than I usually would because I was just so in the mood for a fairy tale and was richly rewarded in choosing this one with a complex main character and a story I found richly romantic though I can definitely see people being turned off by some aspects. For me, this is a winner though and one you'll want on your radar as its release date in January approaches.
Like many people, I fawned over this cover in many a "Waiting on Wednesday" post with the spiraling rose/staircase and powerful red capturing my imagination. Learning that it was based on "Beauty and the Beast" only further sealed the deal. I still feel like B&B is an underutilized fairy tale for retellings so I was ready for one to sweep me away.
And that's what happened here. Nyx has grown up knowing that her mother died birthing her and her twin sister Astraia; the price for even conceiving the girls was that one would grow up to marry the Gentle Lord who rules over their isolated kingdom. Nyx was chosen and trained for this duty while her sister was petted and cosseted. Upon arriving at the castle for her marriage, Nyx is drawn into a tangled love triangle with the Lord Ignifex and his shadow Shade while also unraveling the secrets of her kingdom's very foundation.
I know, I know that I referenced a love triangle above but it's so much more complicated than that and I can't go more in depth without spoiling things and I really don't want to do that to you. Let's just say that I've been very exasperated with triangles in my YA reading but this one didn't provoke those feelings at all. Also this appears to be a standalone so you can rest assured that there's resolution about the relationships and the main plot.
As for the characters, Nyx is a tough nut. She both loves and resents her sister, feeling respect for that familial relationship and how much Astraia smiles and seems to depend on her but also loathing the precious sister who will always be loved more by their father as the splitting image of their mother. For the most part, she is aware of what is right and what is wrong but actually implementing those ideals is a struggle that the reader will journey. I had topsy-turvy feelings about Ignifex (whose name I hate) and Shade, sometimes feeling very positive and other times just anger on behalf of Nyx. When the romance deepens though, I was able to go along for the ride.
Another idea wrestled with is the nature of bargains. Nyx is in this position because of a bargain her father struck and we learn about so many other people who offer certain sacrifices for what they want, so rarely fathoming how far the tricky bargainers will stretch their word. While one thing is promised, there are always unforeseen consequences.
I'm not really someone who tends to notice writing other than identifying a distinct preference for more commercial rather than literary writing. I feel like this one leans more toward the latter but still maintains a good pace with a lot of wonder as everything unravels toward the end. I consider it a bit more literary because of the difficult names and allusions to mythology and history. I was fortunate to be familiar with some of the myths referenced, which I think helped me understand the book better upon first read. This book could definitely still be enjoyed even without that knowledge though.
Overall: An enchanting tale that keeps the "Beauty and the Beast" tale intact while also altering and greatly expanding for a satisfying novel of magic and consequence.