Somehow I feel unsatisfied upon finishing this novel, and it is the first that leaves me feeling so torn about what my reaction to reading is. I both enjoyed the book and also had some issues with it, but it wasn't what I expected it to be. I wasn't entirely swept off my feet the way I hoped to be. However, "Cruel Beauty" does leave me with a sense of melancholy and a bittersweet aftertaste that I'm such a sucker for in books, and I'm sure eventually I'll end up giving this one another go to figure out what my feelings about it are.
The story is a very interesting take on the original fairy tale. The fact that Greek mythology and some Pagan religious ideas were also thrown into the mix made for an original and very intriguing world building that I enjoyed immensely. At times though it was easy to forget what the exact focus of the story was, since the Greek mythology would occasionally overpower everything else in the novel and steal the blanket, so to speak. I'm also still not quite sure about the Hearts and the Resurgandi and how the Hermetic arts were exactly significant in the story, apart from being the failed plan that Nyx tried to come up with. But that's something very minor.
Besides Nyx and Ignifex I hated all the other characters. Not that they were badly written but quite the contrary - they were so nasty to me that I couldn't feel any sympathy for Nyx's family. At one point I even hoped that the world wouldn't be saved, that Nyx would just stay with Ignifex in the castle forever and stay in her little bubble of happiness (although sadly I kept remembering the original Beauty and the Beast and reminding myself that the story WILL follow down the same road as the original). I could relate to Nyx in every way, especially the internal conflict she had throughout the novel. I wanted to reach in and give her a hug, to say that I understood how she felt and that i was rooting for her. I felt the same bitterness and anger towards her sister and father and the same adoration for Ignifex. Both were very well written characters that were a pleasure to follow along with and to see them finally resolve their conflicts.
Now, as to the storyline itself. I feel the pacing was off. 15% of the book is dedicated to setting up the context of the story rather wonderfully, but everything that comes after that is somewhat blurry and confusing. I wish the book was longer, that more time was given for the story to unwind by itself and take a more 'natural' course. Instead it felt like the details about the Hearts and Shade in the beginning were quickly thrown in and replaced by Nyx's temporary confusion about her feelings for Ignifex. The way they searched for the answers felt too brief, and the details about the other wives a bit too vague. I feel like if it were longer it would give a much more well-rounded and complete feeling to the whole story, because right now after finishing it I feel like I lack a sense of closure. I (sort of) understood about Ignifex and Shade and how they correlate together yet at the same time not really. It should've been given more time to unravel, especially at the end, at such an important moment when the main lesson of the story - kindness - is finally laid. Darn now that I think about it I really wanna go back and dig myself in the world of the book and absorb it all again at select moments in the story. I can't put my finger on it but something is missing, that sense of completion and it will bug me for the next several days, I know it will.
I liked the book, really I did. I think Hodge is a wonderful writer - the world she sets up and the spin she puts on a timeless classic is wonderful. But I have never felt this conflicted after finishing a book the way I feel right now. Ignifex and Shade's relation needed to cleared up a bit, I think that's the case. Because my head's still rooting for Ignifex and somehow I feel like he died although I know he didn't and it's an internal struggle of my own here. I'm sure people who made better sense of the story really enjoyed it. I think it's my confusion that's preventing me from fully enjoying the book, as wonderful as it was. And I do hope there won't be a continuation - "Cruel Beauty" is perfect the way it is, in its stand alone (and slightly confusing but still charming) fashion. I'll need some time to make better sense of this one because I loved it, but have a slightly sour taste from lack of full satisfaction.