Cruel Beauty

This arresting debut fantasy, inspired by Beauty and the Beast and set against a backdrop of Greek myths, stars 17-year-old Nyx, who has been raised to marry and kill the prince of demons.

Although the citizens disagree about what left Tartarus vulnerable, the kingdom fell into the hands of the Gentle Lord, Ignifex, who cut them off from the rest of the world. Nyx's father, Leonidas, bargained with the Gentle Lord to allow his wife to conceive twin girls. In exchange, one daughter would be betrothed to Ignifex when she turned 17. Leonidas trained Nyx to inscribe nullifying sigils of the four elements throughout the Gentle Lord's castle in order to free their homeland. Meanwhile, Nyx's aunt taught her to seduce her new husband ("[D]o whatever it takes to make him trust you," she says). But nothing prepares Nyx for the transformation she will undergo in the Gentle Lord's company. Shade, the living shadow servant of the Gentle Lord, adds to an ensemble of well-layered characters as he defies his master to help Nyx carry out her plan. The mystery of Shade's true identity is sure to keep readers engaged.

Hodge's ambitious debut is well executed, with grand prose and a fully realized world with a system of magic that even well-versed fantasy readers will find refreshing. Nyx's call of duty and desire to survive keeps her from surrendering completely to her dark marriage, but those seeking romance will be plenty satisfied with her interactions between the Gentle Lord and Shade. A captivating read. --Adam Silvera, children's bookseller

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