Sunday, June 8, 2014

What we're reading: Fantasy

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamund Hodge
Stand-alone book
342 pages
Reviewed by Anarda

Nyx is angry: Angry about her father’s bargain that led to her mother’s death at her birth; angry at her twin sister for being raised as a beloved, coddled daughter while she, Nyx, was raised to be a heroic, self-sacrificing and unloved avenger; angry that at the age of 17 she now has to fulfill her father’s bargain with the Gentle Lord, demon ruler of their island nation, and marry him. Marry a demon, kill him with the hermetic arts her father has taught her, and free the island kingdom from the curse that isolates them from the rest of the world, free them from the madness that came to some who looked too long at the shadows where demons now live, free them to see the real sky once more, the blue sky they knew from books, the glorious sun that shines brighter than the soft glow from a painterly disc that alone shows it is day. Free to see the stars!

Well, her task may be hopeless, and she has been assured that she would be giving her life to kill the Gentle Lord, but that there would be good for everyone else if she succeeded with her sacrifice. Nyx would like her sister and the villagers to see the sky again, to be free to do as they wish without the demon’s rule, but oh, she is furious that she is the chosen one, and her bitterness over her father’s choice cannot be lightened by the affection she has for her sister.

Nyx brings that anger to the ruined castle where she finally meets her handsome, demonic husband and his curious, nearly identical, detachable shadow, called Shade. She is not immediately ravished and killed by the Gentle Lord, as her aunt led her to believe. Her husband leaves her alone most of the time, with a few rules to obey, which she won’t (and neither did his previous wives, she finds out--shades of Bluebeard!). Instead, she begins to search for those sources of magical power that will allow her to stop the demon, and makes an unexpected ally as she roams the ever-shifting halls of the enchanted castle at night. She also finds herself strangely attuned with and attracted to the Gentle Lord himself, her anger and bitterness finding a match in his own unexpected disquiet. What are the secrets he is holding back? What does Shade really know about the curse on the kingdom? And what would happen if she followed the path her heart begins to uncover?

What a fun read! The author dips into history, Greek and Roman mythology, hermetic magic, and allusions to other fairy and folk tales in this story of angry lovers and cursed fates, but she makes it fresh and crafts the story well. There is some lovely writing in this book, and there are enough twists to the story that I never felt that I was on too-familiar ground.

Great book cover! My rating: 4 out of 5.

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