A story that falls somewhere between Beauty and Beast and Cupid and Psyche? How could I resist?
Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. Balzer & Bray, 2014.
Nyx has been raised her whole life to kill her fiancé as soon as she marries him, not expecting to survive.
The world feels something like a 19th century England, where Greek is the predominant culture. But the parchment-colored sky above makes it clear that the island is no longer part of the rest of the world. They blame the demon carefully called the Gentle Lord for ripping them out of the world. He still lives in the castle at the top of the hill. Desperate people go to him there to make their bargains, knowing they’ll pay with their souls or worse. One such bargain was the one Nyx’s father made before she was born, offering one of his two daughters in payment to the Gentle Lord, even though their mother died in childbirth. He’s a member of the secret organization known as the Resurgandi, dedicated to bringing down the Gentle Lord, and their weapon is Nyx.
Nyx has grown up knowing that her father still resents her for her mother’s death, and has worked hard to learn the magical Hermetic signs as well assassination techniques as the only way to gain his approval. Her sister, Astraia, is left to be the happy, ignorant child. When Nyx arrives at the Gentle Lord’s palace, she is startled that he is pleased to find her different from the sweet and terrified bride he was expecting, so different from the eight dead brides she finds laid out. She never expected to feel anything but loathing towards her husband – so why does she feel like her attraction to Shade, shadow servant by day, handsome man by night, is a betrayal? Of course the Resurgandi didn’t know the whole story – but Nyx must find out the truth before she makes things much, much worse than they already are.
This is not a perfect book for everyone – it was a little too high on the melodrama for my taste, and the solution was a twist that came out of the blue – I think Liviana at In Bed with Books (in a review that shows in Feedly but seems no longer to be on her site) put her finger on the problem, in that it hinges on us believing that Nyx and her sister Astraia have a close, trusting relationship, even though Astraia is in the book only at the very beginning and end, and is at odds with Nyx for most of that time. Still, this is a creative reworking of Greek myths. The atmospheric Beautiful Mansion with Creepy Secrets was a wonderful setting meant for the kind of romance that Hodges creates. Even though neither the Gentle Lord nor Nyx are as bad as they believe themselves to be, they are refreshingly different from the usual “pure girl finds the hidden heart of gold in the bad boy” stereotype, and fans of teen fantasy with lots of swoony romance should enjoy it greatly.
It’s been very popular among the bloggers I read – here are a couple more reviews, and I failed to re-find some I read earlier: at Angieville , Random Musings of a Bibliophile If you’ve read this as well, I’d love to hear your thoughts!