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Literature / Cruel Beauty

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Her mission was to kill him. Her destiny was to love him.

Cruel Beauty (2014) is a Young Adult novel by Rosamund Hodge, and a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, blending the traditional fairytale with classical mythology.

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.


Cruel Beauty contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: Nyx saves Arcadia not through destroying her nemesis, the Gentle Lord, but through saving the man she loves - prince Marcus.
  • Aloof Darkhaired Girl: Nyx Triskelion, the main protagonist, is described as calm, distant and "regal", while at the same time having dark hair.
  • Amnesiac Lover: Nyx, briefly.
  • Anti-Hero: Nyx may be her peoples' hope of breaking free of the Gentle Lord, but that does not stop her from resenting the fact that she is essentially doomed to die in the process or worse, be trapped in the castle forever with her husband and his demons.
  • Arc Words: "You will never be safe with me" is said and paraphrased in a variety of ways by Nyx and Ignifex. Also "the only hope".
  • Arranged Marriage: As a result of the bargain struck between the Gentle Lord and Nyx's father. It turns out to be a perfectly arranged marriage.
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  • Balance Between Good and Evil: In the ending, the two pieces of Marcus Valerius Lux's soul reunite and the result is much kinder than either Shade or Ignifex.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Applies to all bargains stricken with the Gentle Lord.
  • Big Bad: Ignifex is set up as one, since he is a prince of the demons and the tyrannical ruler of Arcadia. Subverted. Upon his creation, the Kindly Ones have told him the rules of his existence, use him to make bargains with mortals and unleash demons onto the Arcadians against his will.
  • Big Damn Hero: Ignifex saving Nyx from demons.
  • The Bluebeard: Ignifex has had eight wives prior to Nyx, all of whom lie dead in one of his castle's chambers akin to the traditional fairytale. This is subverted, as three of them had died due to the Kindly Ones, guessing the Gentle Lord's true name wrongly. The other five had been murdered by Shade, who had lured them into the Heart of Fire - a place which kills most mortals.
  • Break the Cutie: When Nyx visits her family, Astraia is revealed to have been a bitter and resentful stepford smiler due to having to maintain a cheerful face, learning that her twin sister will most probably die tragically while hating Astraia for being their father's favourite and having a future. This is changed in the altered timeline.
  • Central Theme: Nothing is what it seems. The Gentle Lord's castle is a crumbling ruin from outside and a lavish residence from the inside. Ignifex is revealed to be less cruel or malicious than he initially appears despite embodying the dark side of prince Marcus's soul. Shade, while having had all malice purged from him and appearing as Nyx's apparent ally, has caused the deaths of eight women due to his deceit and cares more about destroying the Gentle Lord than her wellbeing.
  • Color Motif: Red - the colour of the cover, of Nyx's bridal gown and of Ignifex's eyes.
  • Dating Catwoman: Nyx and Ignifex.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Both Nyx and Ignifex, resulting in their Belligerent Sexual Tension.
  • Enemy Mine: Nyx and Ignifex agree to team up (despite retaining an antagonistic relationship) to search for his true name together.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Nyx wonders whether Shade is some part of Ignifex. As it turns out, he's part of prince Marcus's soul.
    • The Gentle Lord tells Nyx that he does in fact have a true name and "Ignifex" could not have been further away from it. His true name is revealed as Marcus Valerius Lux.
    • Shade says that he does not care about whether he will live or die, as he is bent on destroying the Gentle Lord. Nyx is initially comforted that she has an ally but it turns out that Shade's determination has caused the previous five wives to die. And she could have potentially shared their fate.
    • The reason why Shade and Ignifex share the same height and appearance is because they are two pieces of the same person - Prince Marcus.
    • The story of Nanny-Anna and Tom-A-Lone foreshadows the novel's ending and climax.
    • On two different occasions Nyx and Shade tell each other that they wish they had met in another place. Nyx and Lux are eventually reunited in the altered timeline, where he had never been the Gentle Lord or she his wife.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Shade, whose eyes are deeply blue and Ignifex with his red eyes with cat-slit pupils appear to embody this trope. However, it is revealed that the morality systems of both characters are far more complex as Shade caused the deaths of Ignifex's previous eight wives in order to end the Sundering, while Ignifex, despite being an apparent evil overlord is not as cruel or hearthless as he is made out to be. Perhaps double subverted, given that when the two parts of Marcus Valerius's soul reunite, his eyes are back to being blue.
  • Happily Ever After: In the altered timeline, Arcadia was never enslaved, Nyx and Astraia share a relationship free of bitterness, Telomache and Leonidas are married and expect a child to be born, Nyx will presumably go to the Lyceum to study the Hermetic Arts and is eventually reunited with Lux.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Nyx believes that in order to save Arcadia, she will be bound to doom herself in the process. Prince Marcus later sacrifices himself to 900 years of imprisonment in the darkness in order to save his kingdom from the Sundering and the demons, as well as to change the past.
  • I Have Many Names: The male lead. He appears as Ignifex, Shade, the Gentle Lord, Marcus Valerius Lux or in short as "Lux".
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Subverted. Nyx initially feels satisfaction to see Ignifex tortured by the darkness, but due to feeling guilt and disappointment with her vindictiveness, she eventually returns to help him.
  • Love Triangle: Subverted. Ignifex and Shade are two aspects of prince Marcus's soul.
  • Meaningful Name
    • Nyx, a dark-haired girl and the novel's anti-hero whose name means "night".
    • Astraia who is considerably more innocent and carefree, has a name delivered from the Greek "aster" - "star".
    • Leonidas Triskelion, who thought he could bear the price of a bargain struck with the Gentle Lord. The historical Leonidas of Sparta is famous for his last stand against an invading Persian army.
    • Prince Marcus Valerius Lux ("light"), signifying the complimentary nature of his and Nyx's ("night") relationship.
  • Missing Mom: Thisbe Triskelion, the mother of Nyx and Astraia died in childbirth.
  • Perpetual Smiler: Ignifex.
  • Really Royalty Reveal: Shade and Ignifex are two parts of the soul of prince Marcus, the last rightful heir to the throne of Arcadia.
  • The Resenter: Nyx acts this way towards her sister, Astraia, as she is jealous that the latter had been chosen by their father to live rather than inevitably die in the process of destroying the Gentle Lord.
  • Settle for Sibling: After Thisbe Triskelion's premature death, Leonidas marries her sister, Telomache.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Nyx is regal, resentful and sardonically sarcastic. Astraia is described as pretty, naive and very sociable.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Nyx and Ignifex's relationship.
  • Sleep Cute: Nyx and Ignifex, after she saves him from the darkness.
  • The Unfavorite: Nyx feels that she's this to her father, Leonidas, who chooses to sacrifice her rather than Astraia and does not appear to experience torment from this decision.