Book Review | The Shadow in the Glass

I do enjoy a retelling so I was quite excited to get my hands on this book.

The Shadow in the Glass
JJA Harwood

Once upon a time Ella had wished for more than her life as a lowly maid. 

Now forced to work hard under the unforgiving, lecherous gaze of the man she once called stepfather, Ella’s only refuge is in the books she reads by candlelight, secreted away in the library she isn’t permitted to enter. 

One night, among her beloved books of far-off lands, Ella’s wishes are answered. At the stroke of midnight, a fairy godmother makes her an offer that will change her life: seven wishes, hers to make as she pleases. But each wish comes at a price and Ella must to decide whether it’s one she’s willing to pay it. 

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I feel I should start by noting that I have tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible but I have lots of opinions on it so just be warned that there may be a few things that slip through the cracks.

As soon as I hear retelling I’m usually sold on a book and I have to admit that for the first part of this book I was, based on Cinderella but much darker and in a wonderfully gothic setting, the kind that I could feel leaping off the page, I was quickly and easily drawn into Ella’s story. When almost all hope is lost for Ella suddenly she finds herself with seven wishes but nothing is ever that easy and the catch is a pretty big one and we soon see what the consequences of the wishes are. I was utterly drawn in until this point and then unfortunately in the middle section of the book, it was a bit like someone slammed on the brakes and everything that had made the story so mesmerising kind of dissipated.

Obviously, when Ella discovers the consequences of the wishes she is going to question how she feels about it and whether she is at fault or whether it is justified in some way, and at first, it is interesting to see how her character handles these situations. However, it becomes a little repetitive, to the point where I started to wonder whether the story didn’t have enough words and some filler was needed to hit a word count, it seemed really unnecessary because it didn’t add anything to the story we already know that this is something Ella is struggling with, it needed an extra element to it to make it more relevant or to show evolution in the character, instead of it being the same concerns repeated again and again.

I also felt like there was at times a bit too much description or extraneous detail at the expense of plot, it really stilted the flow of the book, something would be happening that was carrying the story forward and then it would hit a patch where I felt I could skip a few pages and not miss anything of importance. For me the focus felt like it was in the wrong place, this started off as a really exciting story and within its pages I feel like there were the paths that would have kept that excitement going but instead I was left a little disappointed. It was hinted that the book (which starts the process of the wishes) has been in the family for a while and that the wishes may even have had an effect on Ella in the past and instead of exploring this or getting any real answers towards it, there is a lot of time dedicated to searching for a character that doesn’t really have anything to add to the story.

As I mentioned this is a very dark story, and I actually like a book that is a bit dark however the trouble with a book that delves into such dark territory is that it can become quite a drain, there needs to be a balance against the dark and repressive atmosphere, enough intrigue or redemption or some hope between characters to make me want to keep reading. Don’t get me wrong there were points that the balance was fine and I was intrigued to keep going but there were a few points that didn’t make it easy to continue, it felt like a slog to get through and there wasn’t that glimmer of hope to keep me going. I did wonder maybe if the structure of the book was a little bit of a hindrance, in this case, instead of chapters it is split into seven parts and whilst there are some pauses in the narrative, it maybe could have done with more obvious breaks and that might have helped with the pacing.

This next paragraph might give certain aspects of the story away so skip it if you don’t want any little spoilers.

My other issue was with some of the wishes, for a good portion of the story Ella is adamant that she won’t wish somebody dead, even though she is faced with a repugnant man who is making the lives of everyone around him a misery and it would solve many of her problems if he were to disappear, she will not do it. But then she gives in to one of his demands and essentially chooses to kill someone else in what is a pretty traumatic scene, I know that there are a lot of other concerns that probably went into the choice given the time period but still that active choice knowing what would happen then completely undermines the next section of the book and makes it quite tiresome. Yet again there is more deliberation on whether she is at fault, blah blah blah, and can she choose death for someone to make her life easier and all the rest of the repetitive back and forth…but in my opinion, she already has so this isn’t building any tension, it felt very hypocritical and definitely killed any lingering interest I had in Ella as a character.

I know I have been quite critical of the majority of the story but I was taken by surprise by the last part of it which brought back that exciting and captivating quality that was present in the first part of the book. Suddenly I couldn’t read fast enough and had no idea whether Ella would be able to trick her way into getting what she wanted, this growth from a character who to me seemed unredeemable, and was suddenly actively playing games and trying to come up on top was fabulous. I loved its ambiguity and that it left me with questions but not ones that I felt needed to be answered just ones to ponder over.

The Shadow in the Glass has been a bit of a rollercoaster read for me, I felt like it had the potential to be so much more than it was and whilst there were parts that I felt I was forcing myself to read through, and characters that I wasn’t really enamoured with, I also enjoyed a lot of the story and can appreciate what the author was trying to create.

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