If I hadn’t read “The Night Circus”, I would probably be giving this book a higher rating, but I think many of the things this book does well, “The Night Circus” did better. “Cruel Beauty” is also a YA, and I habitually have issues loving YA as much as I love adult books with similar themes.
I had serious issues with the craft, and I realize after looking back through my other reviews, that I’ve become kind of a writing-craft snob, but this book was all tell and little show. The story is in first person POV, and our main character, Nyx, is constantly telling us how she feels instead of the writing allowing us to experience her emotions. At times the book felt a little over-written, and information is hammered home instead of sitting on the page to let the reader take away what they will. Especially towards the end, even though the twist was interesting, I felt like this book could have been condensed and a lot of the “I felt,” “I thought,” etc, was unnecessary.
But craft aside, the story itself was fresh, interesting, and different. Nyx is a young woman forced to marry the demon Ignifex, or “The Gentle Lord” who enslaves Nyx’s land with shadow wraiths and creates bargains with humans that leave them and their loved-ones dead, demented, or insane. Nyx spends her entire life training with her father in what they call the ‘hermetic arts’ in order to kill the Gentle Lord and free their nation.
But Nyx is not a good daughter; she covets and despises her twin sister, Astraia, since Nyx, and not Astraia, was offered up as the bargaining chip when her father made a deal with the Gentle Lord. Nyx hates her father for his choosing favorites and damning Nyx to what everyone is certain will be violent death or a torturous eternity. She grows up unloved, unwanted, and honed for the specific purpose of being nothing more than her father’s assassination tool. She is a young woman obsessed with duty and hate, so she has the surprise of her life when she actually arrives on her demon-husband’s doorstep and finds he’s not the cruel demonic over-lord the legends proclaim.
“Cruel Beauty” is a refreshing fairy-tale in that no one in this book is ‘good’ or ‘nice’ or ‘pure’. Every character is flawed and Nyx especially struggles to grasp the reality of a person against the legends or rumors surrounding them. As she puts more and more of the pieces together, she unravels a truth that looks nothing like the indoctrination of her youth.
So overall, if you’re not a craft-snob, and you’re looking for a dark, but refreshing fairy-tale, I would recommend this book for it’s creativity and twisted ending.
2.5 rounded up to a 3 for CBR