Review: Framed in Florals

There are so many retellings of "Cinderella" that one would think it would be impossible for a new version of it to be fresh and original. Yet, Abigail Manning proves that it is possible with Framed in Florals, a lovely and suspenseful adaptation of "Cinderella." This book is most similar to Amazon Prime's 2021 Cinderella jukebox musical only much better. Both adaptations feature Cinderella as an entrepreneur who attends the ball to pursue her career ambitions with the handsome stranger she'd encountered previously as a bonus perk. Both Cinderellas are enchanted so their stepfamilies won't recognize them, but the prince knows exactly who she is. Framed in Florals goes a step further by throwing some truly devious and fearsome villains into the mix for a thrilling climax that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.

As far as wicked stepmothers go, this book really takes the cake. Sapphira is the most horrible and abusive woman any orphan girl could possibly be cursed to have as a guardian. She takes pleasure in destroying Kalina's few worldly possessions for no other reason than to torment her and flaunts the special treatment she gives her own two daughters at every available opportunity. This is not one of those retellings where one of the sisters is actually nice. The villains in this book are every bit as sinister as they appear. If her family wasn't already bad enough, Kalina finds herself in the middle of an assassination plot after attending the prince's ball that puts her life in danger and adds a clever hidden meaning to the book's title, which I originally thought was a reference to the "sunset in a frame" line from the Disney movie.

It isn't all gloom and doom, though. Despite the high stakes for Kalina's survival, the development of her romance with the prince is sweet and charming. Prince Jasper is a fully fleshed-out character with his own personality and goals, which is a refreshing change from most fairy tale princes. He has a hilarious "meet cute" in which he accidentally flings Kalina into a huge puddle of mud in the royal gardens while hurrying to attend a meeting with his father. Although the two are not able to see each other's faces after getting caked in mud, they bond over their shared love of flowers and begin a cryptic relationship in which they hide letters for each other inside flower patches based on the individual flowers' meanings. This is such a cute way to form a relationship and provides some rare information about the language of flowers.

Framed in Florals gives a completely original twist on the Fairy Godmother character. Instead of a magical being whose sole purpose is to help Cinderella's wishes come true, Camille is a brash tavern wench who gets stuck with an enchanted dress and a dangerous task that she decides to hand off to a complete stranger at the first chance she gets. Camille is the only person in the entire book who is neither purely good nor purely evil. She is merely a victim of circumstance and makes a poor choice to recruit Kalina as the next victim of something more dangerous than either of them could possibly imagine. This makes it understandable that Kalina isn't sure whether Camille is her friend or enemy after the ball, but she makes the most selfless compassionate decision she can in the end, remaining true to the fairy tale archetype.

Abigal Manning's Framed in Florals is the third book in her Emerald Realm fairy tale series that masterfully reinvents "Cinderella." Manning throws out the tired tropes, crafting a suspenseful novel with complex characters. The villainous Sapphira and the nefarious assassin at the ball ensure danger and intrigue. Prince Jasper is a refreshing change, boasting his own goals and a sweet connection with Kalina. The story's depth caters to a wide audience, offering romance, suspense, and a touch of floral whimsy. Framed in Florals is a must-read for those seeking a fresh take on a classic.

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