Finding Swoons in Books: Rosamund Hodge

As most of you probably know, Mel and I are huge fans of Cruel Beauty (which Ellis hasn't read yet, so you could, you know, go after her with pitchforks later). It's seriously one of my favorite books of all time, and it has one of my favorite romances of all time as well. And today's kick-off post by Cruel Beauty author Rosamund Hodge explains exactly why: it's creepy, but not "too creepy," and it's realistic and Ignifex is complex and fantastic and ah, I could go on for hours. 

But this is Rosamund's post; so now, find out how Rosamund Hodge managed to make her romance in Cruel Beauty creepy but not too creepy!

 



(Warning: this post will contain mild spoilers for Cruel Beauty.)


When I started work on Cruel Beauty, I knew that writing the romance between Nyx and Ignifex would be a challenge. The novel centers around their relationship, so if that didn’t hit the right notes, the whole project would be a failure. Luckily, I knew exactly what I wanted:

Creepy, but not too creepy.

There is no point to writing a romance starring a tyrannical demon lord and making it all happy fluffy unproblematic bunnies. Nyx spends a lot of the novel feeling guilty and conflicted over her attraction to Ignifex, and I wanted her guilt to be justified. I wanted her conflict to be real. Where is the dramatic conflict in loving somebody who’s just misunderstood? Well, okay, there can be conflict—but it’s the exterior conflict of your friends and family disapproving. I wanted Nyx to have to fight herself for the right to love Ignifex.

But I also didn’t want to write a romance that was too problematic. Cruel Beauty is a love story. I wanted people to be happy every time Nyx and Ignifex grew closer. I wanted to be happy every time they grew closer, and I wouldn’t feel that way if their relationship was toxic. I wanted Nyx to feel guilty when she kissed Ignifex, but I didn’t want to feel guilty for writing this kiss.

So how to do that? I decided on a few rules.

1. Nobody would ever forget what Ignifex was, and nobody would think it didn’t matter. Not the reader and not Nyx. 


Well, okay, the reader is beyond my power to command; but I did my best by making sure that Nyx never forgot. When she meets Ignifex and notices that he has “one of the most beautiful faces I had ever seen”, she remembers that he’s her captor. When she first feels actively attracted to him, she remembers “who he was and what he’d done.” When she first kisses him, she thinks,  “He was my enemy. He was evil. He wasn’t even human.” She thinks and thinks and thinks about it, possibly ad nauseum.

Even more importantly, at no point does Nyx think these issues don’t matter. Sometimes she tries to kill Ignifex. Sometimes she tries to find a way for them to be happy together. But she never, ever thinks that what he’s done is unimportant; she may love him in spite of her duty, but she always believes her duty has a claim on her.

2. Nyx would always be the one to escalate the relationship.


The most problematic thing about Nyx and Ignifex’s relationship is not that he’s the evil ruler of her country; it’s the amount of power he has over her personally. Nyx is a prisoner. Ignifex could kill her by snapping his fingers. That is a really awful situation.

Power is attractive. Power over you, power that doesn’t allow you to say “no”? That is scary and creepy and humiliating. I decided that it wouldn’t be enough for Nyx just to say “yes” to Ignifex; she would have to be the one asking all the questions and making all the demands.

In the earliest drafts of the novel, Ignifex initiated their first kiss. The scene went like this: Nyx is thinking that he’s hot, he kisses her, and she takes the opportunity to steal his keys before she kisses him back. But when I thought it over, I realized that since Ignifex isn’t psychic, he has no way of knowing that Nyx wants to kiss him. And since he has so much power, kissing her when she hasn’t given any sign of wanting it is honestly abusive. So I re-wrote the scene: Nyx thinks he’s hot. She asks him to kiss her, steals his keys while he’s distracted, and then enthusiastically carries on with the kissing.

Ditto for the rest of the novel. Every time their level of intimacy increases, it’s Nyx who initiates. Nyx has spent her entire life being deprived of choices; it was very important to me that she should get to be in control of her relationship with Ignifex.

3. But Ignifex would not always be a gentleman. 


He does annoying things like giving her a quick kiss on the back of her neck to make her jump. He does scary, threatening things like locking her in a room with all his dead wives. And he does awful, nasty things like reaching up her skirt to get her knife and then laughing at her for being freaked out. Nyx goes to her wedding expecting to be raped, and while Ignifex is definitely better than that, he is also definitely not an exemplary love interest.

(KIDS, DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME.)

4. And Ignifex would always be unilateral in his affections.


I have a theory about the trope of the pushy/stalker boyfriend. I think one of the reason he appeals to so many people—even though (hopefully) most of us realize he’d be terrible in real life—is that his love is unconditional. You don’t have to worry about being pretty enough to get his attention. You don’t have to worry about being nice enough to keep his love. You can act any way you want; you can even run away screaming. He will still be devoted to you, you, and only you. That is pretty potent wish fulfillment.

I didn’t want to write a stalker boyfriend. But I did want to capture some of that appeal, so I decided that Ignifex would make a unilateral decision to love Nyx. He doesn’t force her to reciprocate his affections. But he also really doesn’t care if she rejects him. He loves her and he’s going to keep on loving her and nothing she says or does—including murder attempts—ever changes that.

So that’s how I set about trying to write a “creepy, but not too creepy” romance. Whether or not I succeeded is for each reader to decide. But I had a lot of fun in the attempt.




Add to Goodreads

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.


30 comments :

  1. I love Beauty and the beast retellings! Really hope to get my hands on this one!

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    1. Oh, then you must give Cruel Beauty a chance! It's the best B&B retelling, in my opinion.

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  2. This is so cool, I don't even know what to say. To see the author put so much thought into the relationship between these characters, not just the chemistry or the swooney moments but the integrity and respect and danger and self-awareness... all that intention is so fascinating and so impressive.

    I'd noticed Cruel Beauty before and was curious about it but now I totally want to read it!

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly. I love posts like these where we really get to know how much thought and detail went into the formation of a relationship, and I especially love this post because I just love Nyx and Ignifex so much.

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  3. I've never read a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I love the idea and the cover is amazing.

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    1. If there's one book to start with, Cruel Beauty would be it!

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  4. Holy Wow. I want to read this so badly now!

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    1. It's such a brilliant, brilliant novel.

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  5. Such an interesting post for such an interesting love story!

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    1. Agreed! And an interesting love story it is, indeed. ;)

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  6. This is one of my most wanted! I'm a sucker for retellings, especially Beauty & the Beast :-D

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    1. It's one of my favorite books ever. I hope you like it!

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  7. Even though I haven't read this book yet, I still found it hard and easy to ignore the warning about the review being spoiler-y. I couldn't it help it but I'm so glad I did! I know more things about this book and I still want to read it! No matter what! :)

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    1. Well I'm glad that the post made you even more excited to start the book!

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  8. Okay this is the best.

    I liked reading about her thought process behind her characterization of Ignifex especially the bits about Nyx's power and agency and having her be the one to initiate things. That was actually fascinating.

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    1. I love that we got to really get into Nyx and Ignifex's relationship even further with this post. All the detail and thought Rosamund put into the formation of their relationship is admirable and amazing.

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  9. I *love* how thoughtful this is, and am really fascinated by the stalker boyfriend theory too - I think it's pretty damn on the money. Such a great post.

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    1. Me too! I can't wait to see what you think of this whenever you do get around to it, Dahlia.

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  10. Wow, this one sounds awesome!!! I think I'm going to really, really like Ignifex! :D

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  11. The cover of this book is honestly SO pretty. A brilliant doorway to the story inside. Oh, and I call Ignifex. Just saying XD

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  12. Although Ignifex is always going to sound like migraine medicine to me (occupational hazard of being an RN, I guess :D) I've heard tons of raving about this book from authors, bloggers, and readers.

    I loved the stalker boyfriend theory too. Maybe he's controlling and watches us sleep, but he'll never leave. I think the author is spot-on with her assessment.

    And that cover, OMG that amazing cover :)

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  13. Ha ha, that locked in the room with the other dead wives scene! I had this one particular question dealing with that scene...

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  14. I LOVED this book! I think I love it even more now because of this post. It's awesome seeing how much thought the author put into this :)
    -Marianne Robles

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  15. Cruel Beauty has been on my TBR list for a while now and I am so excited to read it! Thank you so much for the giveaway!

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  16. I love the thought that went into making this relationship less creepy/abusive than it could have been. High-five!

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  17. I am a huge Beauty and the Beast fan, so this one was an absolute must-read for me from the beginning. After reading a few reviews, including yours (though I will admit to skimming so I wouldn't be spoiled), I am so sure that I will love this story. I can't wait for the chance to read it! Thanks so much for the giveaway!

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  18. I find it really cool how Rosamund put so much though and effort into their relationship! I haven't gotten the chance to read this yet, but it is on the top of my TBR list. I've heard nothing but good things about it, so I'm super excited!

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  19. This book is stunning. I have read so many books recently and find most of them to be okay, pretty good, or maybe a little better than that (the exception being Brandon Sanderson -- the guy is a genius. His books are outstanding). This one out-shined them all. Too many books published recently are "surface" books, with some obvious, unimaginative lessons/themes. Their plots may be really interesting, but that's about it. No depth. "Cruel Beauty" was so refreshing. It makes you think and think hard...about relationships, our true natures, what we have the ability to change, how love can be redeeming, and more. Beyond that, the book deals with some mature issues, but somehow she keeps it clean. It deals with darkness, but in a way that doesn't creep you out. I am just so impressed and cannot wait to read more by this author. This story is truly a work of art. Thank you.

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