Thursday, January 30, 2014

Just Another...Book Crush (#11): Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I've made no secret of my love for Rosamund Hodge's debut novel, Cruel Beauty. From the its ground-breaking heroine to its vivid re-imagination of the fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast," I simply adored this book. And yet, one of my favorite aspects was, of course, the romance. Any "Beauty and the Beast" love story is one I watch out for but the blooming relationship between Ignifex and Nyx is of a dark nature merely because their personalities are both so unforgiving. Rosamund Hodge had quite a bit to say about how she went about crafting the enigmatic personality of Ignifex and, trust me, it's quite the post to kick off the year with.
Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny. 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.
Sometimes I wonder why I wrote CRUEL BEAUTY. 

I mean, I know why I wrote it: because the idea crashed into my head and it was so much fun, I couldn’t resist, even though I was still recovering from a ten-year period of trying to squash all my melodramatic storytelling tendencies. (It turns out, if a story isn’t melodrama, I can’t write it.)

But the thing that baffles and amuses me about CRUEL BEAUTY is that it’s a bad boy romance. A really bad boy romance. My heroine falls in love with Public Enemy Number One: the demon prince who rules her country and holds it captive.

And I’ve always hated bad boys. 

What’s attractive about somebody who’s arrogant, or manipulative, or cruel? Sure, he might be a good kisser, but why would you want to be around him? Or even if you enjoyed being around him, how could you ever respect him?

When I was a teenager, my hatred was absolute. Bad boys were bad, wicked, evil people, and it made me furious when they were rewarded with dating the heroine when they ought to be punished until they were SORRY.

(I was a little judgmental as a teenager.)

But time went on and I read more stories and I became aware that I actually kind of liked a few bad boy characters. And yet some infuriated me as much as ever. I didn’t think I was simply losing my principles--though I was learning to be a little less judgmental--so I started trying to figure out why some of them worked and some of them made me long for murder.

Finally I realized that what it came down to was this: is the bad boy treated as a person or not?

People make choices. Those choices, and their consequences, always matter. But too often, choices don’t matter for bad boys.

I once read a novel where the male love interest—in addition to being creepily pushy with the heroine—had slept with a million girls, and respected none of them, and treated some of them really horribly. But it was all okay, because he was just so incredibly hot and he really,really loved the heroine! Like, for real this time! If he said so, it must be true!

There are a million feminist critiques you could have made of this hero and the heroine’s spineless acceptance of him. But you could have also made this critique: he wasn’t a person. He was a sex god floating on the astral plane, and nothing he did had any consequences, so none of it mattered.

That’s not just morally problematic, it’s boring. Where is the drama in someone whose choices don’t mean anything?

But if the bad boy is treated as a person, if what he has done and what he might do matters, then there are a lot of interesting stories you can tell.

I still like sweet, kind, honest boys the best. But here’s what I’ve realized that I like about bad boys:  

(1) Every love story involves the heroine trying to figure out, “Who is this person and can I trust him?” If the love interest has been awful in the past, and might be awful still, that question is a lot more dramatic.

(2) If the bad boy is to be remotely plausible as a love interest, he has to have a redemption arc. And redemption arcs are always deeply interesting to me. How can you change yourself, and how much? How do you deal with the fallout from the person you used to be?

(3) So you’re in love. That’s wonderful. It doesn’t change the consequences of what your wicked-hot boyfriend once did. How do you deal with the things that love doesn’t fix?

(4) How does this forgiveness thing work, anyway?

I love good boys more than bad boys. But I love writing challenges even more. Once I started thinking about how to write bad boys, I couldn’t resist trying.

So that was (partly) how I came to write CRUEL BEAUTY: I was trying to write a bad boy romance that might work for girls who don’t like bad boys. A story with a bad boy who never got excuses and a (somewhat) good girl who never forgot what he’d done, set in a world where every choice they made had serious consequences. A story about learning to love and be loved when neither one of you was entirely lovable.

And also, a story with really hot kisses. (I am not made of stone, okay.)

13 comments:

  1. Redemption arcs ARE extremely interesting, I wholeheartedly agree, but so few authors get them just right. It's what i loved about Ignifex and it's my very favorite thing about this book. Very few authors do this successfully and believably, without giving their characters personality transplants. Melina Marchetta did it with Froi, and how, and Ann Aguirre did it twice, with Stalker and Jael.

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  2. Love this post! I do love good guys more the bad guys but it's always fun and refreshing to have them occasionally. Hodge nailed the characteristics wonderfully.

    Thanks for sharing, Keertana! <33

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  3. Keertana, I absolutely love this post. I think that the bad guy storyline is so often overplayed, but I love seeing authors actually transform their characters into more than what we're offered in the beginning. That's true talent! Great thoughts, girl!

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  4. I might simply say that the author succeeded. I have read more than half of this story and I'm all over my head for the Gentle Lord. I usually don't go for bad boys but he is something else. I truly love it when that happens. Great guest post. Thanks for sharing Keertana :)

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  5. Lol, I like that a bad boy for those who does not like them

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  6. LOVE this post! There are definitely times when bad boys drive me crazy and I want nothing more than a sweet, adorable guy to rock the heroine's world. But when bad boys are done well (as in Cruel Beauty), they completely mesmerize me and no other characters aside from them exist for the time I'm reading and usually the weeks following. I can't wait to read more from Rosamund!

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  7. I suppose it's kind of the same thing as when the bitchy girl gets all the great guys. I always liked the bad boys (in literature -- I never liked them IRL) because they were untouchable and forbidden. I was too much of a good girl to appeal to them.

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  8. I'm not a fan of the bad boy, but I do love redeemable qualities in my characters. To me a bad boy doesn't really care about anyone else but himself and isn't tortured by his own shortcomings. I guess it is in how you define the bad boy. I enjoyed the bad boy in this book, however! LOL I'm a vat of contradiction. :D

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  9. "If the bad boy is to be remotely plausible as a love interest, he has to have a redemption arc."

    Yes to this! It's nearly always something that I need when it comes to a 'bad boy' love interest. I know I prefer the sweet and nice option when it's possible, but I can't help but find bad boy personalities quite interesting too, especially when you start asking yourself all those questions. (But in real life, whole other story. I refuse to deal with anyone who isn't anything but nice!). This is a great guest post. Ignifex's character was definitely one of my favourite things about Cruel Beauty, so I love getting to hear from the author. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

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  10. I really enjoyed this post! I never really thought about the good and bad things about Bad Boys in literature before. Very enlightening. This book is sitting on my shelf (because of your awesome review) and will be devoured very soon.

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  11. This is an AMAZING post! I love everything Ms. Hodge said here. SO GOOD. I think this book stood out to me because she doesn't make excuses for either Nyx or Ignifex. I agree that I have trouble with the "bad boy" who only quits his philandering ways when he finds the "right girl" that doesn't feel real or redemptive to me. What if he stops liking the girl, or gets bored, does he go back to who he was before? It puts too much pressure on her. I love the way this book explored consequences and redemption. Also the hot kisses were nice too.

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  12. Oh what a fabulous guest post! I just finished this book and absolutely adore it. Redemption arcs have always fascinated me. This book has such deliciously complicated characters that are being infinitely more memorable than any straightforward nice guy or girl. Thank you for sharing this, I love getting insight from authors of books I love! :-)

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