'The Shadow in the Glass' by JJA Harwood has all the classic Gothic atmosphere of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, delivered in the wrappings of an elegant, dark modern fairytale.
Putting a delightfully morbid twist on the age old Cinderella story, the book follows a lowly maid named Eleanor.. 'Ella'.. as she struggles in the wake of loss. Having fallen into service after the passing of the only person who looked out for her after her mother's death, Ella's left with a licentious man who she once called stepfather.
Secreting herself away in the late Mistress' library whenever she can manage, Ella escapes through the stories tucked along the shelves. One night, a fairy godmother hears her pleas and makes her an offer that will change her life immeasurably. Ella gets seven wishes, but each comes at a price.. and the cost is steep.
Honestly, the retelling is such a strong story on its own that it was easy to forget its origins. Though there are obvious connections like the main character's nickname and a distinctive detail at the very end of the book, it just doesn't really read like a Cinderella story unless you go in looking to match things up.
From a presentation standpoint, if I hadn't known the premise.. the fairy godmother and evil stepfather are almost unrecognizable. I was so caught up in the familial logistics and the defining traits of the author's creations.. that for much of the book if the synopsis hadn't told me who these people were, I probably wouldn't have seen the correlation until the end.
The storytelling is gritty and magnificent. From the opening pages, there's an undercurrent of something bad on the horizon. It isn't spelled out right away, but like a classic Poe story.. your instincts pick it up and you can just feel the tension building with dreadful slowness. You can see what lies in the road ahead once things get going and it feels like it just might swallow you whole.
There's something special about an author who can make you feel like you're slowly marching to your own end, while simultaneously keeping your hope alive that just maybe you'll be wrong. That someone or something will avert the crisis in your path.
Harwood has just such a gift. If you're a fan of eerie Gothic tales, don't miss this one. Since it's only her debut novel, I'll be eagerly watching to see what else she might have up her proverbial sleeve.
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