Review: Kingdom of Cinders

Kingdom of Cinders is a "Cinderella" retelling from Deborah Grace White's Kingdom Tales which had been on my reading list for a while. I read the first book in this series but wasn't as impressed with it as her original fantasy books including the Vazula Chronicles and the Kyona Legacy. I have been thoroughly enjoying her newer fairy tale series, The Singer Tales, which incorporates even more original lore into these beloved tales. While this book does focus a lot on the popular fairy tale, there are some key differences that make it unique. For instance, it takes place in a kingdom where magic is illegal with a protagonist who must hide her powers from the crown. I couldn't help noticing how similar these elements were to my own original princess trilogy which also includes a "Cinderella" retelling, but I will try to leave any personal bias out of this review.

Penny never asked to be born with magic, nor did she want it. In fact, she was so ashamed of her powers that she hid them from both her parents until their dying days. Unfortunately, that left her stuck with a wicked stepmother and two selfish stepsisters (one more so than the other) with no way out of her miserable life. When her stepmother sends her on a delivery to the castle with her father's death still fresh on her mind, Penny accidentally catches the eye of Prince Rian, who was already skeptical of the kingdom's unjust policies toward people with magic. Though Penny tries to make herself as scarce as possible, the prince is taken with her and seeks her out to deliver the payment for her task. It doesn't help that a fellow enchantress named Lady Amaranthe who knew about Penny's powers is determined to bring the two together. As a result of their unlikely friendship, Penny agrees to attend Prince Rian's series of betrothal balls where his parents are determined to find him a wife. She continues to carefully hide her powers for fear of the danger they could bring to them both.

As far as adaptations go, I appreciate that Deborah incorporated more elements of the Brothers Grimm version of the fairy tale than the more popular Perrault version such as holding multiple balls and picking up lentils as one of her tasks. Lady Amaranthe serves the role of the Fairy Godmother effectively with her ability to alter appearances and give Penny a suitable look for the ball. She also serves as Penny's mentor by helping her to hone her magic. The original elements of the book are woven masterfully into the story. The reason the "Cinderella" fairy tale is so popular is that it shows that any girl can be a princess, even the most unlikely of commoners. Here, not only is marrying Penny a challenge for Rian because of her social standing, but also because of her powers, which are enough to have her arrested on principle. Like Deborah's other books, this story incorporates dragon lore by portraying a dragon who talks to Penny about her magic in her dreams. It was a clever way to tie this story into her other books as well as a nice treat for those of us who have read some of them already.

One of the most important elements for any "Cinderella" retelling is the love story, which I think was handled well here. With chapters from both Penny and Rian's perspectives, we get a good understanding of both their fears and desires. Rian fell for her a little quickly, but that's normal in these types of stories. Penny's magic served as the biggest obstacle in their relationship, which provided just the right amount of drama for a story that has been told so many times. The surprise twist at the end that I didn't see coming at all sealed the deal for this book not being just another trite "Cinderella" retelling. Though the "magic ban" trope has been done in the past, it worked well in terms of adding new life to an old story. I also liked that Penny's magic gave her a connection to a dragon that tied her tale into the larger overarching fantasy universe of Deborah Grace White's books.

While it isn't one of the best books Deborah Grace White has ever written, Kingdom of Cinders holds its ground as an original "Cinderella" retelling full of magic, intrigue, and surprises. It presents a new interpretation of a familiar character who has more magic than she knows what to do with. Elements like the unfair treatment of magic users, a more proactive fairy godmother, and a nicer stepsister breathe new life into this classic story. If you are looking for a "Cinderella" retelling that has just enough original aspects to make it feel new again, this is a good option. If you are a fan of princesses and fantasy and are looking for something more original, I strongly recommend checking out Deborah's other series including The Vazula Chronicles, The Kyona Legacy/Chronicles, and The Singer Tales.


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