I love a good retelling, and I was eager to dive into this mash-up of Hua Mulan, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Emma… all rolled together into something completely new and enthralling. If you’re like me, and you’re jonesing for a good fairy-tale read – something both familiar and unfamiliar – I think this might just be the book you’re looking for. The biggest piece of advice I can give you? Just keep reading. While I found so so much of Kingdom of Ash and Briars to be wonderful and enchanting, I won’t lie and say that the beginning doesn’t drag a bit. There is A LOT to take in, and that, coupled with some pretty huge time-lapses, might leave you reeling for a bit. But trust me – if you stick in out, you’ll get the retellings you’re hoping for and then some.
The second half of this book slayed me – I loved watching Bristal’s relationship with Prince Anthony develop, and I found the way the different fairytales worked together to bring a fresh perspective to the whole endeavor. Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella both play huge parts here, with a heavy does of the Mulan fable thrown in for good measure (and who doesn’t love a little cross-dressing for the sake of saving the world now and then?). The whole thing reads a bit like Shakespeare (lots of happily ever afters to go around), but in the end it isn’t as predictable as you might expect. There were definitely a few moments that left me in tears, and I didn’t see a good bit of the end coming either!
The one thing I most wanted from this book though was more. More time to flesh out the plot, more time to get to know the characters, more time to feel more sympathetically for the villain’s kind of crazy perspective. I think this could have been an awesome series, and while I would have read that series, it’s still a super fun read as a standalone. West does a great job of sewing all the bits and pieces together into something coherent and clever.
This book will appeal to fans of The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, and really anyone who’s looking to get lost in a fun new fairytale world. It’s one heck of a wild ride once you really immerse yourself in it, and one that I’m so glad I picked up!
Rating: 4/5 stars
ABOUT THE BOOK
Bristal, an orphaned kitchen maid, lands in a gritty fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she is an elicromancer with a knack for shape-shifting. An ancient breed of immortal magic beings, elicromancers have been winnowed down to merely two – now three – after centuries of bloody conflict in the realm. Their gifts are fraught with responsibility, and sixteen-year-old Bristal is torn between two paths. Should she vow to seek the good of the world, to protect and serve mortals? Or should she follow the strength of her power, even if it leads to unknown terrors? She draws on her ability to disguise herself as a man to infiltrate a prince’s band of soldiers, and masquerades as a fairy godmother to shield a cursed princess, but time is running out. As an army of dark creatures grows closer, Bristal faces a supernatural war. To save the kingdoms, Bristal must find the courage to show her true form.
Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular debut.