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.

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Mini Reviews: The Wicked + The Divine, Vol. 2 & 3

I’ve been on a The Wicked + The Divine splurge since I borrowed it from my friend, and so far I’ve been enjoying it! That said, by the third volume I took a bit of a break because the third volume didn’t stack up as well for me. All the same, still worth the read, and I have two more volumes to get through before I run out!

TTT: Fictional Cosplayers

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For more information on Top Ten Tuesday, click here.

I was going to do another “Top Ten Fictional Characters I’d Dress Up As For Halloween” but I think I did that one already and there aren’t really any new ones I’d be, considering I still haven’t made my way through the previous ones (technically, I only managed to dress up as Azula once, and it wasn’t a full-blown costume…). Well, I suppose I’d totally try to dress up in Kell’s coat, but that’s another story altogether.

So instead, I went another route and decided to twist it by thinking of fictional characters who’d rock cosplaying fairy tale characters. Because I can, and it sounded like a good idea at the time. Um…great, now I totally just remembered Snape in Neville’s grandmother’s dress…

Aww, that just made me slightly sad. I blame myself. Just a bit.

Ten Fictional Characters Who’d Rock At Cosplaying Mythical/Fairy Tale Characters

Alucard from A Gathering of Shadows (V.E. Schwab) as Sinbad the Sailor. I mean…Sinbad isn’t a pirate, but he certainly has that flair. Also, it wouldn’t be a far stretch for Alucard, who’s practically a sailor already. Though honestly, I think Alucard might find Sinbad a bit boring, considering the flair he possesses just dressing up as himself. But hell, I’d love to see Alucard in a Sinbad costume, so does that count?

Cersei from A Game of Thrones (G.R.R. Martin) as The Queen. I mean…not that she isn’t a queen already, but I feel like she’d definitely dress up as any version of the Evil Queen in any of the fairy tale stories that have Evil Queens. I’m particularly thinking of The Queen in the Snow White tales, where she had stopped at nothing just to try to get rid of her pesky, meddlesome step-daughter. I mean, hiring a mercenary to cut out her stepdaughter’s heart? Yeah, that’s such a Cersei thing to do. Just saying.

George from Lioness Rampant (Tamora Pierce) as Reynardine the Fox. Okay, not the romantic bits. I don’t think George is that much of a cad, but he’s certainly a tricky fellow. If he had a patronus, it would most certainly be a fox (oh yes, I’m mixing fandoms here!). As is, he would be the type of person who can manipulate and deceive people. He is, after all, the Shadow Man.

Aerin from The Hero and the Crown (Robin McKinley) as the Paper Bag Princess. Yes, okay, I totally went for a more modern fairy tale story! This was a 1980’s tale that reversed the princess and prince stereotype, especially when it came to fighting dragons. And nothing says dragonslayer better than Aerin. She’d totally rock it in a paper bag, too.

Sazed from Mistborn: The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson) as Anansi the Spider. I mean…after The Hero of Ages, I doubt Sazed would even be contemplating dressing up as something, but if he chose to, he’d totally rock as an Anansi. This fairy tale creature is a knowledgeable one, often believed to be the holder of stories. Sazed already passes for a storyteller, albeit one who tells stories of religions, but hey, that’s still thousands more stories than most people know, so why not.

Sabriel from Sabriel (Garth Nix) as Orpheus. Yeah, okay, another dude. But I think Sabriel might actually spin this and genderbend the parts. Her Eurydice would more than likely be her father, the previous Abhorsen, and she wouldn’t be interpreting it as a tale of tragic romance. In any case, I bet if Sabriel actually was Orpheus, she’d be more than likely to send the dead back to the Land of Death than to actually drag them back. Oops?

Mercy from Blood Bound (Patricia Briggs) as Gretel. Every time I think of a German fairy tale character, I swear my head goes to Mercy, because of her whole studying German history in university or something like that. Why Gretel? Gretel was the type of fairy tale character who relied on her instincts and smarts to get out of a situation. I found there was a situation in Blood Bound that was kind of similar to the “Hansel and Gretel” tale, where Mercy had to save caged friends from a psychotic witch–erm, vampire. Also, I’m sure one particular Alpha werewolf would enjoy a bit of roleplaying on Mercy’s part. Hem hem.

Katsa from Graceling (Kristin Cashore) as Finn MacCoul. Honestly, I don’t see Katsa emulating any fairy tale princesses, even if maybe a few of them are badasses. She’d totally want to be a cool warrior dude from some Celtic mythology and then-some. Finn comes to mind because he is a cool warrior-dude from Celtic mythology. Katsa would totally be all over Finn’s spear, because it’s pretty darn cool.

Zuzana from Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Laini Taylor) as Okiku. I totally see this happening. First off, because Prague and haunted walks, and Zuzana would totally take the haunted walk and make it her own. She would pull from Eastern tales instead, just to bring freshness into her scare, and what better costume than to be the ghost of a spirit from the well? She’d totally rock the creepy Okiku look, that’s for sure. If nothing else, she’d totally do a marionette show of it, which would be even more awesome.

The Darkling from Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo) as Koschei the Immortal. Not so much because both share similarities in their backgrounds or because Koschei is derived from Russian fairy tales (and so is the world of the Grisha, really), but because of course the Darkling would love to portray a king. He’d pull it off because he’s the effing Darkling. That is all.

Do you see any of your favorite fictional characters cosplaying and rocking fairy tale looks?

Mini-Reviews: The Perfect Shadow, Nobody’s Princess

More polarizing reviews! Well, one for a novelette by Brent Weeks (who, so far, hasn’t let me down yet), and a book that’s been on my TBR since forever. I was pretty underwhelmed with the latter, considering I was looking forward to reading a mythological Helen persona I might actually like. Unfortunately, this was not so.

perfectshadow

nobodysprincess

Have you read either? What did you think?

25 Reads: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Neil Gaiman is a masterful storyteller. Just go with the Austenesque description, because if you argue with me, I am ready to throw-down and make you feel shame for disagreeing. (Well, not really, but you know what I mean…somewhat.)

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m here to say that I recently finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane. In one sitting. Is it a big deal for me? Yes, because I normally take a while to read anything over 100 pages long. Even with children’s books, I tend to space them out so it takes one to two, maybe even three days to finish them. Rarely do I keep reading from beginning to end. Gaiman’s book is definitely one of the happy exceptions.

oceanThe Ocean at the End of the Lane is, as some people may have already mentioned, an adult fairy tale. It is about a man reminiscing his time as a child on a lane where he encounters the very characters that turn his childhood into something fantastic. For the adult, it starts off with a funeral and a memory. For the child, it begins with the death of an opal miner and the meeting of one Lettie Hempstock, a strange girl who believes that the pond behind her house is in fact an ocean.

It becomes harder to describe or summarize the book because you really have to read it to get that sense of magic and fairy tale. Gaiman has pulled from mythology and folklore (something he has been doing for quite a while, if you’ve read his other stuff), and uses this knowledge to craft a fairy tale with equal parts magic, wonder, fear, and reality. It was easy to fall into his ocean, because his descriptions were just enough to enable the imagination to run rampant. Mine sure did.

Needless to say the book was fantastic.

FOOD MNEMONICS

One of the things that makes this particular Gaiman story many kinds of wonderful is his description of food. In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, the narrator remembers the food he’d had at the Hempstock Farm, and occasionally he mentions that these moments were the most lasting. The taste, the smell, the texture of the food are things that have occasionally prodded the narrator’s memory of a particular scene (whether it was burnt toast and a dead opal miner or jam and porridge and Old Mrs. Hempstock).

pancake1

When I put the book down, one of the most prominent things I remembered was an earlier scene between the narrator and Lettie inside the farmhouse, and they were snacking on rolled-up pancakes with plum jam filling (evidently the narrator’s favorite flavor). Now, being mostly American, my image of pancakes tend to fall on…well, fluffy and round and not at all “rollable” in the way Lettie was doing it in the book. So I figure, maybe the book version of “pancake” is a cross between the American version of pancake and a crepe. Or maybe it is a crepe because of the super-thin consistency that had been described in the book.

Anyway, I did a search and realized that European pancakes are clearly not like American or Canadian pancakes at all. There isn’t a raising agent, and the batter is more runny than regular pancakes. They’re also pretty darn light, do not need butter, and consist of eggs, milk, some flour, and, if wanted, sugar. It’s literally the simplest batter to make. Flipping and rolling it, on the other hand, takes a bit more practice, but that’s a matter of technique, not recipe.

Still, even if your pancake (like mine) isn’t perfect, it’s definitely doable. I managed to find strawberry jam and raspberry champagne jam in the pantry to use as the inside filling (no plum, unfortunately), and I rolled and alternated between the two types of jam (the raspberry flavor was easily my and my sister’s favorite). Then I dusted the tops a bit with some powdered sugar. Next time I’ll try adding some lemon on top and a bit of ricotta cheese inside. My gosh, that would taste heavenly, I think.

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For anyone interested in the recipe: I tweaked this batter recipe by adding a teaspoon of vanilla extract. You really should use a blender to smooth the mixture out, but if not, a few minutes whisking should also do it. Obviously, you can go without the filling, or you can put some in before you roll it out, or you can add the jam and/or filling on top. Probably the best part about these pancakes is that they’re so malleable to anyone’s imagination.

Whaddaya know, much like The Ocean at the End of the Lane!