By Rosamund Hodge
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
CRUEL BEAUTY blends fairytales and Greek mythology together to create a unique romance featuring an unconventional heroine and hero. Nyx Triskelion has been raised to murder her future husband, Ignifex, known as the Gentle Lord. She has been raised knowing that she will die killing him. Oh how she resents her younger sister, who has been left ignorant and innocent of the darker parts of Nyx.
Nyx does not save the beast through her virtuousness. She's is angry, vicious, and can be as cruel as her husband. You see, Ignifex grants wishes, but they always go wrong. But isn't part of the fault the wisher who knows that his wish is doomed? Ignifex is no angel, but as Nyx comes to know him, she understands that there's more to him than cruelty. But then there's Shade, Ignifex's shadow servant, who is human by night. He could be Nyx's ally in destroying Ignifex.
CRUEL BEAUTY is a thrilling read in which love is complicated, and communication even more so. There's a wonderful sense of lurking danger, something even more sinister than Ignifex and Shade waiting in the shadows. The story's mythology is complicated, and goes far beyond the classical sources that spawned it. The setting sells the romance. There's something Gothic about it all, the manor, the secrets, the isolation. Nyx and Ignifex would not work in any sort of contemporary setting.
That is not to say that CRUEL BEAUTY is perfect. For one, it could use far more of Nyx's sister. Some of the book's most important action hangs on their relationship, but it doesn't have much force since the sister appears briefly in the beginning, then disappears until the climax. The reader has to take it on faith that the sisters love each other even as they hate and resent it each other. It could be a complicated relationship to rival that of Ignifex and Nyx, but it's just not there on the page.
I think CRUEL BEAUTY is a stunning, romantic debut. I enjoyed it, and I thoroughly enjoyed the nastiness of Nyx and Ignifex. Rarely do protagonists get to revel in being bad people. (But for all that, they aren't that bad.) I look forward to whatever Rosamund Hodge writes next.