Sometimes you just need a good, distracting book that you can lose yourself in. That’s what this one was for me. It’s not the first time I’ve read Phoenix and Ashes but I needed something the was familiar but still gripping. This book, by Mercedes Lackey, has all the elements I enjoy – historical fiction, a fairy tale, magic, a love story, a strong female character, and a happy ending. The WWI-era setting highlights the divisions between social class, and the changes that “the great war” wrought on British society.
In this re-telling of Cinderella, Eleanor’s hopes and dreams are shattered when her father dies, leaving her in the thrall of his evil new wife, who quickly binds Eleanor to her will and imposes menial slavery on the girl. Instead of a life at Oxford filled with learning, Eleanor has a life of hard work filled with laundry.
But Eleanor is coming into her own powers and if she can learn enough she might just be able to escape Allison’s clutches, with the help of her godmother, a friendly local witch who helps start her magical education.
Eleanor watches as Allison and her girls set their sights on Reggie – a war-hero who is on medical leave (recovering from a knee injury and “shell-shock”). Eleanor and Reggie are drawn together by circumstance and then friendship. Can Eleanor find an Air-master to help her and Reggie get over his crippling fear before it’s too late?
At first, I have to admit, Eleanor rubbed me the wrong way. For the first few chapters she always annoys me, because all she does is wallow in the misery of her situation. But then her fiery personality kicks in and she becomes a determined and much more likeable character. By the end of the book I always really love her.
Reggie I liked from the start. He provides an interesting insight into the experiences of the WWI soldiers (even though this is clearly fiction I’m sure much of his description of the trenches runs true). I appreciate his thoughts on the senselessness of the war, and his horror around the casual way droves of men were sent over to die, with the outdated notion that all that was needed was “one big push”. It is also an interesting look at shell-sock (PTSD), which was unfortunately considered “malingering” by many old-fashioned folk during that time.
Of course I LOVE that this is an adaptation of Cinderella, with twists. In this one, the stepmother and stepsisters have no redeeming qualities – they are very clear-cut stereotypes of the “evil” step-family. There’s enough other nuance in the way the book looks at the great war that this depiction is appropriate for the story. And sometimes it’s nice to have a clear-cut hero!