“I love you more than any other creature, because you are cruel, and kind, and alive.”
God, I love hateful, willful, unruly women. Is it because I am one? Ha, I don’t know. My husband could probably shed some light on this, but I’m afraid to know just how often those words might come to mind. If it turns out it’s fairly frequent, hopefully he’ll follow that revelation like Ignifex and say that’s part of my appeal. Or maybe it’ll be one of those times I’ll be proud to be called willful and unruly, and like Nyx, I won’t care. I’ll know it’s true and glory in it.
Cruel Beauty is a retelling of Beauty in the Best unlike the hundred (I exaggerate, it’s more like seven) others I’ve read. There is no Belle dancing in the library here, but there is a Nyx, and she’s fierce and self-aware and though she softens enough to dance a little on a balcony, she is hateful, willful, unruly, conflicted. I loved her.
I also loved the world-building. I’m not usually a fan of fairytale retellings, because I think they’re almost always boring – I already know the story. But this world was so interesting and different; I didn’t feel like I was reading the same tired tale, and I honestly didn’t know at the end where I would wind up. For one thing, everything centers around an amalgamation of Greco-Roman mythology, pseudo-Cetlic folk stories, and alchemy. Yes, alchemy! In this world is called “Hermeticism,” a gift to humanity from Hermes, and it’s knowledge of these forces that Nyx will use to complete her mission.
For Nyx has known since she was nine that she exists only to save the world. Pretty heavy, so you understand why there is a bitterness in her. Her father bargained her life away in exchange for her mother’s ability to bear Nyx and her twin, and on her seventeenth birthday she is to be taken to the Gentle Lord’s castle and married to him. Since she learned her fate, her father has trained her in Hermeticism, and the ways of a secret society that has tried to kill the Gentle Lord for hundreds of years.
“The ninth king died in the night. Before his son could be crowned the next morning, the Gentle Lord, the prince of demons, descended upon the castle. In one hour of fire and wrath he killed the prince and rent the castle stone from stone. And then he dictated to us the new terms of our existence….For on that night that the Gentle Lord destroyed the line of kings, he also sundered Arcadia from the rest of the world. No more can we see the blue sky that is the face of Father Uranus; no more is our land joined to the bones of Mother Gaia. Now there is only a parchment dome above us, adorned with a painted mockery of the real sun.”
Ignifex is the Gentle Lord, and he and his sentient shadow slave, Shade, are not what Nyx expects, and this book was not at all what I’ve come to expect from fairytale retellings. I think a lot of people would enjoy it simply for its interesting world and its take on alchemy and mythology. It’s romance-heavy, of course, but it’s not the center of this story. One strong theme throughout is acknowledging that there aren’t really heroes, and no one is truly pure of heart.
“[Thinking they could bargain the Kindly Ones into making them kind] was the folly of all the people who had ever bargained with them, believing that if they just found the correct price for the perfect power, they would be able to make their wishes come out right. I knew better: there was no power I could buy or steal that would save me from my own heart.”