Friday, January 17, 2014

Cruel Beauty

I love fairy tale adaptations. There's just something brilliant and magical about fairy tales themselves (and even those, the way we know them best, are often adaptations), but when you put an unexpected twist on them, the magic is there to discover anew.

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge, reinvents the tale of Beauty and the Beast, a particular beloved one of mine. Nyx's father made a deal with the devil, and now Nyx must pay, by marrying and killing the demon ruler himself, if she can. It's all she's been raised to do. But Nyx deeply resents it. Why was her twin sister the child her father chose to love? Why did her father seek a bargain with the creature in the first place, if he knew those bargains always had undesirable consequences? When Nyx finally meets Ignifex, he seems as cunning and despicable as she's always heard. But Nyx is no saint herself, and somewhere deep inside, she understands him. And then she kisses an imprisoned shadow...

Though I would dearly love to say more, I hate spoilers. This young adult novel really grabbed me from the get-go. Nyx is far from perfect, and her imperfections made her a character I could identify with all the more. Though I love Disney's sweet and innocent and kind Belle, I don't identify with her as much as I do with someone who is torn between right and wrong, knowing what she should do but feeling otherwise. And I don't think I'm the only one who doubts and struggles. So, while I do like good to triumph in the end, if the journey there is a little more rocky, I appreciate that.

On the other hand, there are some dark aspects to this story, obviously. The Gentle Lord, as the beast is ironically called, rules the demon shadows and keeps them at bay. If they are released or escape to wreak havoc, they make their victims go insane, and Hodge's descriptions are chilling and somewhat graphic, though I admire her ability with words. That, along with some sexuality, make this a book for older teens and other readers.

Overall, though, I wasn't bothered by the books depictions of the depravity and greed of man's heart, and when it matters most, good does triumph. If that's a spoiler, then I'm sorry, but if you know me, then you know I wouldn't like the book otherwise.

The book ends with a twist that I found perfect and another I didn't like as much, so I had some mixed emotions there. Thematically, the end is just right. As for the plot, I wasn't completely satisfied. It ends as you would expect a good fairy tale to end, but it cheapens some of the earlier story. I can't be more specific without spoiling.

Nonetheless, this beautifully written, movingly relevant story is one I won't soon forget. Four stars.

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