Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

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.


As a fan of retellings I had high hopes for this book inspired by Beauty and the Beast and it did not disappoint. I did feel it was a little slow to get going but once we get to the “beasts lair” I couldn’t put it down. I loved the unique spin the author added to the story by weaving in Greek mythology (and maybe a dash of Rumpelstiltskin) and I thought it was wonderful how complex each and every one of the characters were. There’s not a single one who is wholly good or pure of heart.

Nyx makes for my favourite type of heroine. She’s strong, determined and dutiful but she’s also fierce, angry and full of hate. Her father may have raised and trained her to defeat the Gentle Lord but she doesn’t want to be the one giving up her life because of a deal her father did and she can’t help hating him and her sister who is cherished and loved. Everyone wants something from her and it seems as though no one genuinely cares about her. It’s not surprising that she falls for the first person who accepts her as she is and doesn’t want anything.

To be fair, I could kind of understand why both Ignifex (the Gentle Lord) and Shade (his shadow) were so appealing to her. Shade shows her kindness and understanding and Ignifex sees exactly who she is and values her for it. Ignifex in particular I loved, he is not what Nyx has been led to believe and I loved his humor and honesty, even if he is a little bit evil. The relationship between Nyx and Ignifex is an absolute joy to read. I do love the whole enemies to lovers trope and it is done so well in this. Neither trust the other and in fact Nyx is actively trying to destroy him. There’s lots of verbal sparring between them (including the odd death threat) but they develop a mutual understanding and acceptance. In many ways they have a lot in common.

I should also add that I loved the way the relationship between twin sisters Nyx and Astraia was portrayed. It’s a complex mix of love and hate. Nyx can’t help but feel jealous of Astraia and though she does love her, she also hates that Astraia is the chosen one, the one who is protected and cherished. This isn’t Katniss volunteering as tribute to save her sister this is Nyx being offered up as an unwilling sacrifice. Some of the most intense moments in the story are in fact those between Nyx and her sister, who is not a naive and pure as we’re led to believe.

Added to the wonderfully complex cast of characters there’s also some very beautiful writing and incredible world building. The pace is occasionally slow but the world the author creates is so detailed and vivid that it didn’t really matter, I was still hooked. I especially loved the castle, with it’s magical and impossible rooms which were at turns terrifying and wondrous.

My biggest criticism of this book is however the ending. I’m so confused. I kind of get it but don’t fully understand how they got where they did. If anyone does understand it please, please explain it to me.

Overall though I still loved it and would recommend. If the ending had been clearer it would’ve made my faves list for sure.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: A Curse So Dark & Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer
A Curse So Dark and Lonely
by Brigid Kemmerer

This may be yet another Beauty and the Beast retelling but it is one of the best I’ve come across. I absolutely loved the new spin the author put on this classic tale and main character Harper is truly awesome.


Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper Lacy. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.


I absolutely adore retellings, reading pretty much every one I can get my hands on, but even I have to admit my first thought on seeing this was not another Beauty and the Beast retelling. I must have read at least a dozen of them so it was difficult to see how Kemmerer was ever going to make this one stand out. Somehow however she does and I can say, hand on heart, that this is one of the best versions of this classic tale I’ve come across.

It may be based on a story we all know and love but the author has put her stamp on it and turned it into something a little bit different. There’s no beautiful but misunderstood young girl held captive by a hideous monster who turns out to be nice on the inside and they fall in love. Instead we have a contemporary heroine who accidentally manages to get herself kidnapped and transported to a new and magical world. There’s no beast either as the prince she meets is handsome and charming and maybe just a little too smooth. There is a curse placed upon him (it’s in the title) but this curse is that he’s doomed to repeat the same season over and over again until he manages to find someone to fall in love with him. At the end of the season, if he hasn’t found true love he is transformed into a terrifying beast who will kill everyone and everything in sight before time resets and he begins the season anew.

It really is a wonderful take on the story and I absolutely loved this notion of time repeating for Prince Rhen and also the sense of urgency his impending transformation brings to the story. I loved that the enchantment caused everything within the palace to repeat despite Rhen and captain of the Guard Grey being the only ones there. Food magically appears at certain times, rooms tidy themselves and musical instruments play the same music they did for Rhen’s first season (even without the musicians). There’s something wonderfully magical about it but it’s also a little bit sinister too.

What truly made this book for me however was main character Harper. I think she may possibly be one of my all time favourite characters. From the very start she has incredible strength and resilience and over the course of the book she develops into something even more, finding confidence and self assurance. Physically she’s not perfect, she has cerebral palsy which limits what she can do and means she struggles with a lot of things, but while it does slow her down at times it doesn’t curb her determination.

I truly admired how she coped with everything thrown at her. She’s magically transported to a new and more primitive world, is held captive in a cursed palace, becomes entangled with local politics and has the incredible pressure of being told she can save a kingdom on the brink of war. She has the odd wobble (fair enough I would too) but she doesn’t wait around for someone else to rescue her or fix things but instead steps up and does it for herself. Yes she does do some incredibly stupid things and doesn’t always listen but she acts which in my opinion makes her awesome.

Her relationship with Prince Rhen is also very well done. For a Beauty and the Beast inspired story it’s pretty light on the romance, there’s no insta love here or even an instant attraction. Harper isn’t naive and knowing about the curse pretty early on she never buys into his charm (and actually calls him on it). They bicker and they fight as neither wholly trusts the other and I have to admit I was never fully sure their relationship would turn romantic (and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to).

Rhen is an intriguing character but his guarded and thoughtful nature make it difficult to really become invested in him. He doesn’t show much of what he feels and to be honest he’s so dispirited and defeated at the start of the story that it’s not clear he feels much at all anyway. He does develop over the course of the book and by the end I did come to really care about him but I’m still not sure I ever really felt like he and Harper made the best match.

Captain of the Guards Grey however I almost instantly loved. From when he first accidentally kidnapped Harper for Rhen there was just something about him that made me happy. He’s incredibly loyal, brave and stoic but there’s a really soft and fun side to him that I thought made him a better match for Harper. Some of my favourite moments in this book were in fact between him and Harper which is probably not the way it should have been.

The writing is great and I thought the pace of the story was pretty much spot on. It’s a fast and easy read and there’s just enough intrigue and action to keep you hooked throughout. I loved the world building and while some of the secondary characters were a little stereotyped there was enough depth and complexity in the leads to make up for it. I will say I wasn’t wholly convinced by Harper’s back story and family and it felt a little bit forced to fit what the story needed but given how much I loved Harper I can let it slide.

Overall therefore, this is one of the best retellings I’ve come across and one I’d recommend all lovers of the genre pick up. The ending left things a little bit open so I can’t wait to find out what’s next for these characters.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are very much my own.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Review: Sea Witch by Sarah Henning

Sea Witch by Sarah Henning
Sea Witch
by Sarah Henning

This book reminded me just what it was I loved about villain stories. It’s not perfect but there’s enough mystery and shocks to make it wonderfully addictive reading.


Everyone knows what happens in the end. A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss. But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends. One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch.

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love a good villain story and this book made me remember exactly why that is. There’s just something so unpredictable about it, even though I thought I knew what the story would be it somehow managed to take me completely by surprise. The only thing I was sure of was that something bad was going to happen and the main character probably wouldn’t be getting a happily ever after. It’s an uneasy and frustrating feeling but it makes for some truly addictive reading.

Despite being yet another mermaid story (there seems to be a lot of them around at the moment) there was something different and completely unexpected about Sea Witch. I was anticipating a version of the Little Mermaid or a prequel but it was unclear in the beginning how this story fit with the fairytale we all know and love. For one thing the majority of the story is set in the 19th century in a small fishing port on the coast of Denmark. It follows Evie, a 16 year old girl, daughter of a fisherman and best friend to the Crown Prince.

She’s considered a bit of an outcast by everyone, in part due to her friendship with the Prince, Nik, but also due to the rumours of witchcraft surrounding her. This reputation is not particularly helped by death seeming to follow her around. First her mother dies saving her life and then best friend Anna drowns while they are both swimming in the sea.

Things begin to change however when a storm hits on the birthday of the Prince, washing him overboard from the ship they’re holding the celebrations on. He’s rescued by a mermaid who bears a remarkable resemblance to Anna and has a beautiful voice just like her friend had. When this mermaid reappears a few days later, transformed into a girl her own age and on a quest to win the heart of the Prince, Evie vows to help her. But appearances are not always what they appear to be.

I absolutely loved how unpredictable this story was. There are so many twists and turns I had no idea how it was going to end and there were more than a couple of moments which had me literally open mouthed with shock. There is this constant sense that there’s something not quite right and that disaster is approaching for Evie but it’s impossible to tear yourself away.

I liked Evie as a character but I have to confess she frustrated the hell out of me. Her intentions, while sometimes a little selfish, are generally good and she is completely loyal to those she cares about. But, it becomes clear very early on that she’s far too trusting and loyal and that she takes too many risks as a result, messing with things she doesn’t fully understand.

The other characters I wasn’t so sure about. Nik, the high born Prince is a little bit wishy washy and his cousin, who is Evie’s love interest, is never entirely convincing either. The romance between them seems too sudden and to me his feelings didn’t feel genuine. Mermaid turned human Annemette (who may or may not in fact be Anna) is a more intriguing character but at times felt a little over done.

There’s a lot of romance in this story and not one but two love triangles, neither of which I really bought into. Grumpy old cynic that I am I find the notion of true love and being willing to die for someone a bit much for a 16 year old. What interested me a lot more was the relationship between Evie and Anna/Annemette and also the magic system in this world.

I thought the way the magic centered around the sea and was based on a kind of barter system (to get something you have to give something) was wonderful, and a little bit terrifying. Everything has consequences and Evie, who is encouraged to mess with magic by Annemette, has no idea what these could be. It’s intriguing and frustrating and at times breathtaking. When everything is finally revealed I found myself on the edge of my seat, the conclusion is truly epic (and heartbreaking) and totally worth plodding through teenage romance for.

I’d recommend this to anyone who loves fairytale inspired stories without the happily ever after and doesn’t mind a love triangle (or two).

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own

Book Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Jane SteeleJane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reader, I loved it.

I was so excited to get my hands on a copy of this book and it most certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a darker take on the classic Jane Eyre story with an engaging main character, a fascinating plot and a real atmosphere which completely drew me in to the story.

This is a book that will stick with me for a long time and is one I will no doubt read again and again.


Reader, I murdered him.

A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?


Before I say anything else about this book I should first say that I absolutely love Jane Eyre. It’s one of my all time favorite stories. I’ve read it a number of times and watched pretty much every adaptation there is of it so it’s safe to say I know the story well and in fact could quote parts of it off by heart.

When I saw Jane Steele was described as a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre I couldn’t resist. Unlike a lot of the other classics, retellings of Jane Eyre seem to be few and far between. The addition of the gothic element made the prospect even more exciting. While I loved Jane I have to admit I sometimes wished she’d taken more of a stand and fought for what (or who) she wanted and who doesn’t love a bit of gothic storytelling every now and then.

This isn’t your typical retelling however as Jane Eyre, as a work of fiction, is frequently referred to by our main character. She often comments on the similarities between their life stories and backgrounds but their reactions and behavior in response to events are very different. Miss Steele is at times very critical of Miss Eyre and seeks to avoid the pitfalls she fell into.

Their stories are most definitely similar, both girls are orphaned, end up estranged from their remaining family, attend the most horrendous boarding school to get their education and end up working as governesses, but, while Miss Eyre turns to the spiritual world for guidance and follows a strict moral code, Miss Steele is rather more flexible. She admits herself she has no conscience and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. If she happens to kill a few people along the way so be it.

“Though I no longer presume to have a conscience, I have never once lacked feelings.”

Despite her claim of having no conscience, I have to admit I absolutely loved Jane Steele as a character. She makes a lot of mistakes over the course of the story but she owns those mistakes, learns from them and is probably harshest on herself. She lies, she cheats and she kills but for those she cares about she’s fiercely loyal, forgiving and will go to any length to protect them.

This need to protect those she cares about and to be loved is first demonstrated in the boarding school where the girls are subjected to constant physical and mental abuse. They’re encouraged to turn on each other by a tyrannical head teacher but while some of her so called friends throw her under the carriage (so to speak) to save their skin, she never does. She’s highly intelligent and quick on her feet so is often able to talk her way out of trouble. When that fails she takes whatever punishment she has to rather than turn on a friend.

While I did enjoy the boarding school scenes what I loved most however was her relationship with Charles Thornfield. He enters her sights when he inherits her former home, one she believes is hers by rights. Jane changes her name and obtains a job as governess for Mr Thornfield so she can investigate but finds herself strangely drawn to her new master.

“It would be inaccurate to say that my heart skipped – nothing whatsoever happened to that poor excuse for an organ. My breath quickened, however, and my hands fretted, and all other outward manifestations, manifested.”

Charles Thornfield is definitely a good match for her. He has a number of eccentricities of his own, a dark past and a number of secrets but with Jane playing a role could they have any hope of a future.

The writing style in this book is very Jane Eyre esque so it took me a while to get into the flow of it but once I did I found it mesmerizing and addictive. I was reading on my kindle so spent a lot of time highlighting quotes and descriptions that I loved.

For the most part the story is well paced (I wasn’t too sure about the London section) and very well written. There is some incredible dialogue and Jane’s voice is captivating. There is also a great sense of time and place which really draws you into the world and the period. What makes it even better is that this shows the darker and more exotic side of Victorian times. In her time in London, Jane stays in the less salubrious parts and mixes with criminals and prostitutes rather than the upper classes.

As a Jane Eyre lover however I have to say I absolutely adored the nods to it within this story. Every chapter starts with an excerpt, Jane refers to her namesake’s actions regularly (mostly disdainfully) but most of all I loved the more subtle references. Lines and scenes lifted almost directly and then flipped and roles reversed or changed. This is a regular occurrence in the scenes with Jane and Charles. One of my favourite scenes is when Jane is thrown from her horse after it spooks on coming across Charles out walking. Her reaction is priceless.

As well as the references to Jane Eyre I also felt like there was a bit of a nod to Sherlock Holmes in there as well. There is a detective investigating the trail of bodies Jane has left in her wake in addition to another mystery around Charles and his ward Sahjara. It does make for a mixture of genres but the author balances them incredibly well and it somehow all works.

In case you can’t tell I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to everyone. I just wish I could do it justice with my review (it’s so difficult to review a book you love). I have to admit I’ve been pestering everyone I know to read it so I have someone else to gush over it with.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review but I think this is a book I will be going out to buy. I’ve already picked it up three or four times since finishing to read read bits here and there and I suspect this will be a regular occurrence.