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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge

I've grown up reading fairy tales with princes sweeping princesses off their feet, and that's how it's always been. Who would have thought that these tales can be re-imagined into something new that can pique a reader's interest?

Title: Gilded Ashes (Cruel Beauty Universe) by Rosamund Hodge
Release Date: April 1st 2014
Published by: Balzer + Bray
Source: Bought
Buy: Amazon


Orphan Maia doesn't see the point of love when it only brings pain: Her dying mother made a bargain with the evil, all-powerful ruler of their world that anyone who hurt her beloved daughter would be punished; her new stepmother went mad with grief when Maia's father died; and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother's approval, yet she always spurns them. And though her family has turned her into a despised servant, Maia must always pretend to be happy, or else they'll all be struck dead by the curse.

Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn't believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. What's the point of pretending to fall in love with a girl just so she'll pretend to fall in love with him back? But when his father invites all the suitable girls in the kingdom to a masked ball, Anax must finally give in and select a wife.

As fate would have it, the preparations for the masquerade bring him Maia, who was asked by her eldest stepsister to deliver letters to Anax. Despite a prickly first encounter, he is charmed and intrigued by this mysterious girl who doesn't believe in love. Anax can't help wishing to see her again—and when he does, he can't help falling in love with her. Against her will, Maia starts to fall in love with him too. But how can she be with him when every moment his life is in danger from her mother's deadly bargain?

The word "dark" wasn't mentioned in the summary, but if I had one word I can use to describe this novel, it's that. Dark. Yes, this is such a rich and fantastical reimagining of the classic Cinderella tale, but it's also one that feels closer to the original Cinderella tale because it's more than a fairy tale. Can you even call it a fairy tale?

There's a lot of elements in this novella that worked so well for me, better than Cruel Beauty ever did. First, Maia's aversion to love. Who would have thought? A heroine NOT disillusioned by love, but only sees the cruel things and misfortunes it brings. That in itself seemed like something new to me, and the very foundation of Maia's character was her thoughts on the various pains, difficulties, burdens and limits love can bring. She doesn't know why her younger stepsister wants to get close to her, why her older sister craves her mother's love which she knew she wouldn't get. Maia had to smile and pretend she's happy even with the volatile temperament of her stepmother and her cruelty, because if not then her own mother, now a ghost, would act on it, and Maia knew what happens to people who do not love her.

Second, Anax. I was pleasantly surprised with the way Anax's character was set up in the story. He was exactly the kind of prince I didn't expect to like. He knows he's the son of a duke and he knows what that position entails, and he's not really happy with it. Like Maia, he's through with love,  blinded by his feelings once and not trusting to love again, opting to marry a random girl he'll choose when midnight comes at the ball his father is organizing. That is, until he met the lowly servant in a drab, gray dress who insists he marry her mistress because she's not the kind to love. Anax is witty and smart, and he has a lot to say and discuss with Maia when it comes to love. I love their thought exchanges, that gradual shift in the dynamics of their relationship. From being companions and sharing their thoughts about love, one trying to get rid of her stepsister so she doesn't have to worry about her ghostly mother hurting anyone anymore, and the other trying to see past the hurt he has gotten because of who he is, to something more.

Third, is the reason why this story made me want to say that it's dark. The author managed to carve an interesting niche in the world of Cruel Beauty just for this story, and yet manages to fit it convincingly in a world where Demons exists, people make bargains with the Gentle Lord and suffer through the consequences of the bargains they made. Maia lives her life as a result of the bargain her mother made, the bargains her stepmother made. Love and magic ultimately destroyed her family, and Maia had to live her life anew carrying the results of what their wishes made, what love made.

And fourth, I love that what made Cinderella a fairy tale that I loved can still be seen in this story. The stepsisters, stepmother, her fairy "godmother", the prince, though all brought to life with a different take on the characters. The ball is there, though the circumstances were different. When Maia had to give herself that one night to the party, but with a different goal in mind. When she left and the Prince had to follow her the next morning. I also loved how Rosamund Hodge managed to bring forth in the story that one fact: Maia was just a servant and Anax will be a future Duke. Yes, she was once from a family of good standing, but not anymore. The doubts brought about by that piece of truth, that thinking of what the possible consequence is made it feel more than a fairy tale.

Gilded Ashes is that new perspective in the story of Cinderella, and boy, can Rosamund Hodge bring to life a scrumptious tale. A bunch of what ifs injected in a classic tale that gives life to something dark and amazing all at once. I daresay I enjoyed reading this short story more than I did with Cruel Beauty. It's got all the elements I am looking for in a story about Demons and fairy tales colliding. It was not a happy ending. Not fully, that is. But Maia and Anax are two characters that will fascinate you with their own tale to tell. Give it a try!

Content (plot, story flow, character):
I still sort of want to get my happy ending. I know this is a novella and that some things are kind of rushed but putting a different spin on certain things in a story can also mean I can feel differently with the characters and I feel so much for Kore and Thea.

Shining: Worthy of a Goddess' Love!

Book Cover:
Cruel Beauty's cover is a lot more beautiful compared to this but it's also a good cover!


  1. I also really enjoyed this little piece of novella from the Cruel Beauty world, love how the step sisters are well-fleshed out (especially Kore... oh dear I ended up loving her so much) and the cover is gorgeous as well. Just wondering is Gilded Ashes 'happened' before or after Cruel Beauty? I didn't think there was explanation about this, or was I not being thorough?

    1. Kore! I liked her, surprisingly. There's something in the way her character was made that made her lovable instead. I think I liked her better than I did Thea. Oh, and I'm assuming this, because The Gentle Lord is part of the story, but this might've happened before or during Cruel Beauty?

  2. I think this is my main problem with novellas and why I don't read them much; I often find them too short and underdeveloped. However, this novella seems pretty good even though I haven't read Cruel Beauty yet, heh. Thanks for the review, ate Kai! :)

    1. It's good! If you ask me, I like this wayyyy better then I liked Cruel Beauty. Something in CB... makes me feel a bit "ehhh". But Gilded Ashes is way interesting!

  3. pretty nice blog, following :)


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