Cruel Beauty is a re-skinning of Beauty and the Beast, told in a weird, fantastic world with strong influences from ancient Greece and Rome. Among the retold fairy tales that I’ve read, it’s among the best of them and manages to feel reasonably like the inspiration story while adding a good number of weird twists and beautiful imagery on top of it.
Honestly, the strongest part of the story for me was the world. It seems that a chunk of reality was torn from what could have been our world and set aside, with a sky that looks like parchment and demons that literally roam the land, making deals. There’s a castle chock full of magical rooms and artifacts that are all sorts of cool, even when they’re just used as background for a single scene. It’s the sort of world I would absolutely love to explore in a more freeform style (virtual reality?) someday and the author does an excellent job of bringing it all to life and making it feel real.
Next up, the characters. Nyx felt like a teen girl making the best of a bad situation. She’s moody and passionate and feels real. I don’t like her at times, but I think she fits the story well. I think the thing I disliked the most about it was how fairy tale romantic she was at times. It fits the world, it fits the story, and I’m sure there are a great many people out there looking to this story for exactly that, but it’s not necessarily what I wanted to see.
Finally, the plot. I had a pretty good idea what at least one of the big twists was going to be right from the beginning, but there was enough misdirection muddying the waters that I kept questioning it right up until it happened. I really wish that there had been more… just more to the latter half of the book, in particular right before the climax after talking with Astraia and also after, dealing with the fallout of Nyx’s actions. That could have been an entire novel on its own, but instead it’s relegated to a scant few chapters at the very end. So it goes.