Review: Cinders of Glass

I just finished reading an ARC of Cinders of Glass by Celeste Baxendell, and all I can say is wow! This book drastically exceeded my expectations. Even though it is an adaptation of "Cinderella" and "The Little Match Girl," it was not the least bit predictable and kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen after each chapter. It had one of the most relatable shy princess protagonists I have ever seen in fiction while thoroughly exploring the pros and cons of being selfless or charming without coming off as cynical. This book is the fourth entry in the Bewitching Fairy Tales series and my favorite by far. Despite being nearly three times as long as the books I usually read in this genre, there was not a single sentence that felt extraneous or expository. I savored every page right up to the last one.

Cinders of Glass by Celeste Baxendell

At first glance, Liora may seem like your typical "Cinderella" character, devoting herself to serving her stepfamily and letting others walk all over her in the process. Likewise, Prince Cynrik appears to be the quintessential Prince Charming, flirting with all the ladies at court while secretly dreaming of finding true love. Yet, Cinders of Glass peels past the obvious layers to find the heart of what has made these character archetypes so appealing for centuries. The book reveals in a beautifully creative way that these characters secretly desire to be seen and loved for who they are and not how they appear to the rest of the world around them. Though she may be meek and frail (which makes her far more relatable than any modern-day Disney Princess), Liora has an inner strength that derives from her heart of gold. Prince Cynrik takes notice of his when she uses one of the enchanted matches that she sells at the village market to stop a horse from trampling him and his soon-to-be sister-in-law, Princess Dione. Cynrik spends the rest of the book relying on Liora's cleverness and ingenuity to stop a dangerous conspiracy against the royals despite being all too aware that he does not deserve her.

Normally, I don't like long books. I never understood why it was necessary to spend ten pages saying something that could just as easily be said in one or two. Cinders of Glass is an exception to that rule. It is packed to the brim with surprising twists and turns that made me never want to put it down. It's impressive how many surprises Celeste Baxendell was able to include in a story based on one of the most predictable fairy tales of all time. With all the conspiracies being planned against the royal family and how little Liora and Cynrick knew about them, I could never guess what was going to happen next and was surprised over and over again as each culprit was revealed. Liora and Cynrik's greatest strengths also turned out to be their greatest flaws, which is why they balanced each other out so perfectly as a couple. Cynrik cared for Liora whenever she forgot to take care of herself, and Liora believed in people enough to break through Cynrik's cynicism.

While the romance was handled flawlessly, I also loved how this book described Liora and Cynrik's family lives. It presents a crystal clear picture of who they are and what their day-to-day lives are like before they meet each other. Liora spends most of her days selling matches that were enchanted by her younger stepsister, Marlena, while her stepmother and older stepsister are usually away doing some sort of illegal operation. Like the little match girl who inspired Liora, she has trouble selling any matches despite the magical nature of her products. Meanwhile, Cynrik spends his days feeling pressured by his brother, King Besart, to serve his kingdom in ways that he does believe he is capable of. He is willing to do anything to avoid being forced to marry someone he doesn't love, as he believes that to be the worst punishment imaginable until he meets Liora and sees how many sacrifices she made for her own family. This book addresses many common complaints about the "Cinderella" fairy tale with an open mind and shows how two very different people can help and change each other for the better.

Cinders of Glass is a triumph containing one of the most nuanced and realistic portrayals of "Cinderella" I have ever read. It is filled with daring adventure, suspense, and romance that kept me on the edge of my seat for seventy thrilling chapters. If you are a fan of fairy tales, romance, or just really good books, you cannot miss this one! I love how it turns the "Damsel in Distress" criticisms on their head and shows how mentally strong a physically weak character can really be. It also celebrates the importance of honesty by allowing its protagonists to accept their true selves and find love in the process. Every fairy tale adaptation should use this book as a model for how to do it right.

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