Cruel Beauty is written by Rosamund Hodge. It was published in 2014 by Balzer + Bray.
Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom—all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him. Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people. But Ignifex is not what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?
Cruel Beauty is Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast (with hints of Bluebeard and Rumpelstiltskin) and it is wonderful. It’s written beautifully, the adaptation pays homage to both its fairy tale and Greek myth roots with enough of a nod to each for it to be recognizable but not too obvious, and Nyx is a really good protagonist who has that combination of grit and insecurity that makes her a perfect balance of capability and angst (both extremes I dislike).
This is probably the most sensual fairy tale adaptation I’ve read, due to the whole “I have to seduce him and then kill him” plan that Nyx and her family decide to do. It’s not graphic, but Ignifex and Nyx have this incredibly charged aura (their “chemistry” or whatever) around them whenever they appear together, which makes for a pretty captivating romance, but again, sensual.
One of my favorite parts of the book: Oh my goodness, (highlight to view spoiler) Astraia and that character change. The way she just twisted Nyx around her finger at the end (and how her character turned out in the alternate universe) was shocking, and really cool in a villainy sort of way.
Speaking of the end, and the alternate universe…that was the point when I think Hodge tried to do a little too much. It was pretty weird and I was confused. Also, the book ended a bit strangely and a little abruptly, I thought.
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Sensual situations between Nyx and Ignifex, kissing, implied sex.
Genre: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Young Adult
I stepped through before I could change my mind, and the door promptly slammed shut. I flinched at the crash but managed to stop myself from trying to tug it open again. I wasn’t supposed to escape.
Instead I looked about me. I was in a round foyer the size of my bedroom with white walls, a blue tiled floor, and a very high ceiling. Though from the outside it had looked as if there were nothing of the house but one lonely tower, this room had five mahogany doors, each carved with a different pattern of fruits and flowers. I tried them, but they were all locked.
Was that a laugh? I went still, my heart thumping. But if the noise had been real, it did not repeat. I circled the room again, this time pounding on each of the doors, but there was still no response.
“I’m here!” I shouted. “Your bride! Congratulations on your marriage!”