Unlove and Marriage… || Cruel Beauty Review

Initial Thoughts:

Honestly, this book was okay at best. There was so much talk about the Hermetic arts but it showed almost NOTHING useful about it. There was a lot of wishy washy magic which I had put aside and tolerated up until the solution at the end was to BLATANTLY REVERSE TIME to when EVERYTHING wasn’t effed up. That’s when I lost my shit.


CRUEL BEAUTY

by Rosamund Hodge
Balzer + Bray, January 2014
YA fantasy, fairy tale retelling
Rated: 2.5 / 5 cookies

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all 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. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love.

The Good Bits

For podcasting reasons, I’ve been in a Beauty and the Beast retelling splurge. After I read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I’d scoured reviews just to see what people were writing about regarding that particular fairy tale retelling compared to some others. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge was a common comparison and mention in many of the reviews, so yes, I was very intrigued by the book itself.

Note, I did initially think that Cruel Beauty was also new adult, so my expectation on the romance was a bit…more.

Cruel Beauty started off well enough. You have a dystopian Greek-inspired world, where a Gentle Lord rules a separated and isolated nation of Arcadia. You have an angry girl who is destined to marry said despicable Gentle Lord. Who, by the way, she has been trained to kill from birth.

Pretty damned compelling stuff, if I do say so myself.

And for the most part? It was pretty cool, the premise. I expected things to go wrong the minute Nyx would be married to Ignifex, and it being a rather close retelling to its original source (and the fact that the book jacket summaries SPECIFICALLY FOCUS ON THIS), I knew general YA love hijinks was going to happen. What I overestimated was the amount of chemistry that these two lovebirds were going to have.

As a BatB retelling, though, it was pretty spot on, including the lovely library, a magical ring with a rose emblem on it, and a foreshadowing of the dream-prince/Beast who shows up as a shadow servant of the mysterious Ignifex.

Alright, so Ignifex isn’t a Beast in a purely physical sense (which seems to happen in a friggin’ YA novel)–since he’s supposed to be Rhysand-level kinds of sexy, with black feathery angel wings in the package–but he is a monster in the emotional sense. He keeps Arcadia trapped and rules through his shadow demons. He also is the Gentle Lord, a dealer of wishes and seemingly unfair bargains. That being said, obviously there’s a chink in his armor, and there is something that explains why he’s the Gentle Lord in the first place.

I will admit that’s the best bits of the story. Well, along with the fact that Ignifex is a pretty amusing villain, especially when he knows exactly why Nyx is there and lets her roam the castle anyway.

The Triggery Bits

Unfortunately, cat-and-dog conversation and dystopian fantasy backdrop were pretty much the only things I liked about the story. I wanted to like the rest, but there were several things that drove me nuts. Her family being one of them.

There was no redeeming quality in any of her family members, and I was deeply disappointed in Nyx’s twin sister, Astraea. What could have been a deeply interesting character turned out to be a bland, tropey, vengeance-filled sister with added naivety, which was quite possibly the worst combination of traits in a character EVER. I couldn’t even pick a limelight lady from the bunch of females in the group, because honestly, Nyx was the most interesting female, and she’s already got enough limelight.

On top of that, the magic in the book was frustrating. In the attempt to keep with the timeline and mythological background, the magic used for Nyx and the Resurgandi lies in the Hermetic arts. My problem with this is that there was a lot of talk about Hermetic arts, along with symbols and rules, but nothing ever came out of this type of magic. At the end of the day, the other magic that showed up in Cruel Beauty was something that didn’t have any rules and wasn’t explained all that much. By the end of it, it was all a Deus Ex kind of thing.

AND WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT TIME-FUCKERY AT THE END?

Let’s all just retcon the entire story because the characters are making more mistakes than the plot can handle, and soooo we’ll give them all a clean slate. This was quite possibly the worst copout ever. What was wrong with having characters live through the mistakes they made and try to make up for them? What was wrong with trying to break out of their dark, worldly prison as opposed to having all their experiences rewritten to a happier one? Ugh, this was the most upsetting bit.

But I won’t rant anymore. Otherwise I could go on and on.

2.5 out of 5 cookies! I wish I could have loved this book more…sigh.

Dragons, Gods, and Other Steamy Bits || A Promise of Fire Review

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Initial Thoughts:

I find myself terribly conflicted with this book. On the one hand, I found it a fast read, occasionally super riveting, and totally steamy (like whoah there, this is NOT YA WHAT WAS I THINKING). On the other hand, I couldn’t personally condone the relationship for most of the book, and even when things started getting full-blown bad romancey in the classic Alpha-male and feisty female trope, I’m still holding onto my reservations.

Would I read the next book though? Hell yes I would.

A PROMISE OF FIRE

by Amanda Bouchet
Sourcebooks Casablanca, August 2016
Adult romance, fantasy
Rated: 3.5 / 5 cookies
e-ARC provided by NetGalley (thank you!)

promiseoffireKINGDOMS WILL RISE AND FALL FOR HER…
“Cat” Catalia Fisa lives disguised as a soothsayer in a traveling circus. She is perfectly content avoiding the danger and destiny the Gods—and her homicidal mother—have saddled her with. That is, until Griffin, an ambitious warlord from the magic-deprived south, fixes her with his steely gaze and upsets her illusion of safety forever.

BUT NOT IF SHE CAN HELP IT
Griffin knows Cat is the Kingmaker, the woman who divines the truth through lies. He wants her as a powerful weapon for his newly conquered realm—until he realizes he wants her for much more than her magic. Cat fights him at every turn, but Griffin’s fairness, loyalty, and smoldering advances make him increasingly hard to resist and leave her wondering if life really does have to be short, and lived alone.

A Promise of a lot of Hot Things

So when I requested this book on NetGalley, I was looking at the cover and story description and thinking: “Oh! Kind of like Uprooted but with more romancey bits. Mmk!” Honestly, I expected a YA romance, with all the angst and all the tension.

What I was not expecting was all the sex. And hell, the sex was detailed. Gods above, it was much too detailed.

And before the eye-rolling at my seeming naivete commences, please note that I do primarily read and review YA and children’s fantasy. Occasionally I will review adult books, but often they are not so much romance adult books. So while I am not altogether unfamiliar with the smut that people write these days, a couple of the passages in this particular book took me by surprise.

I can’t say I ultimately disapproved, mind. Those scenes were hella sexy (and oh yes, I sure as hell am talking about THAT scene 85 percent into the book…).

A Couple of Caveats

A Promise of Fire is a story about a young Magoi (magic user) woman hiding from her past and a Hoi Polloi (non-magic user) man trying his utmost to bring her out of hiding. The two embark in a constant clash of emotions and physicality, and amidst their conflict lies a budding level of attachment that, when finally acted on, may very well destroy or unify the three kingdoms.

So, yeah, it’s a romance fantasy in a nutshell. Do not expect it to be more. I mean, the opening scene spent a great deal of time describing the perfectly muscled tones of the mysterious “warlord” (who winds up being the main male lead) and Cat’s apparent attraction to said fine specimen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to kick Cat then or later, because honestly, the amount of fluttery butterflies and metaphorical wings and heat zinging through her nether regions every damn time the Beta Sinta came into play was getting tiring (Honestly, I don’t know how Cat manages to continually get turned on and not feel fatigued by it all in a physical sense!). I’m only surprised the words “rippling pectorals” weren’t used to describe any of the Hoi Polloi men, though Bouchet certainly gets damn close to using that description.

cavill

All that description about the Beta Sinta pretty much just sent my head to the hotness that is Henry Cavill. I mean, normally I wouldn’t complain about this beautiful eye-candy, but there IS such a thing as getting too repetitive over those beautiful raven locks and that hard, muscle-toned body.

The progression of the romance itself was kind of cringe-worthy at the start. In truth, I felt uncomfortable about the development between Cat and Griffin in terms of how they interacted with each other. From day one, it’s clear both are physically attracted to each other, and both are the epitome of their character archetypes. Cat is the feisty, fiery, powerful woman with a chip on her shoulder. Griffin pretty much screams Alpha male (even though, funnily enough, his title is the Beta Sinta). Griffin lays claim to Cat the minute he interacts with her, going so far as kidnapping her, threatening her with the general safety of her circus friends, and then tying her up with magical rope to bind her to him. Rightly so, Cat is angry, rebellious, acts out against her captors, and YET she winds up having the hots for the man with the perfect package (and gods, you need to read the description of Griffin and the Beta Team, they are full of glorified male description).

If that doesn’t scream dubious consent, then I don’t know what does.

It’s not until the latter half of the book that this uncomfortable dubiousness lets up, and even so, the whole time I’m reading, I kept thinking: “This is really not the way to go about winning an independent woman’s heart.” Which prevented me from loving Griffin. I mean, the other characters? Yes. I love flirty Carver and loyal Flynn, and Kato is charming and adorable, even if he is written as a perfectly male specimen as well (and gods, I was so afraid they’d all be Gary Stu-ish in nature). But Griffin? I suppose he has his cheeky amusing moments, and on occasion he has made me laugh out loud. All the same, I could have done without some of the belligerence he uses to get what he wants. And goodness, there was one scene that killed me with laughter, because it was, quite literally, a “fuck or die” chapter that I’ve only ever seen in fanfiction so far. I just COULD NOT DEAL.

Anyway. Moving on.

A Richly Imagined World

That all said, I absolutely love the worldbuilding and the overarching plot that revolves around the book.

Bouchet’s Thalyria is divided into three kingdoms: magic-filled northern Fisa, politically unstable Tarva, and magic-less southern Sinta. The ruling families appear to follow a hierarchy made up of Alphas, Betas, etc., with a tradition of fratricide being the normal way of things. Hell, it doesn’t seem to faze Cat to talk about how the Alpha Fisa condones her children’s bloodthirsty battle for the throne, nor does it faze her to mention the naturalness of the Alpha Tarva’s power-hungry sister, who is effectively Beta Tarva. And as for the Alpha and Beta Sintas? Well, they’re pretty much magic-less Hoi Polloi who upended tradition by overruling the Magoi Sinta nobles and becoming rulers themselves.

And among all of this political turmoil lies in essence a magical world, filled with Greek gods and Oracles. Cat’s powers are interesting at worst, friggin’ awesome at best. The fact that Griffin–whose Hoi Polloi ancestry denotes no magical powers at all–does not get affected by magic is also an interesting note. There’s definitely a lot I could ask about the working of the world’s magical system, and if it’s solely based on what the gods give their Chosen. In which case, I wonder how many actually like Cat, since, you know, she’s kind of got some god-like ancestry in her own bloodline.

In any case, while the romance did take over the majority of the story, I do want to continue reading the series. While the reader knows exactly who Cat is by the end of the book, no one else in Sinta does, and certainly I’m looking forward to how her lineage will affect the way most people in Sinta think about her. Also, there’s a lot of buildup over how dangerous the Alpha Fisa is, and how each of the divided kingdoms are close to the brink of war. And there’s also the fact that Cat herself is the Kingmaker. Why is she called this and what is she going to do next? Ugh, the possibilities for the stories in the next books are endless. And I want to know.

3.5 out of 5 cookies! So yeah, for the overall story, I’d keep on reading. I could also do with less heated exchanges and more giant-walloping, dragon-slaying adventures, please. I mean, I know it’s a fantasy romance, but still…


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