The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood review

The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

I picked The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood up on Netgalley, not really expecting to get approved. I don’t even know why I even wished for it as I’m usually not into retellings and I never really liked Cinderella anyway. Nevertheless, Harper Voyager kindly gave me their approval to read and review this Fantasy retelling and I’m grateful for it.

About the Book
Series: –Genre: Fantasy, Retelling, Gothic
Date of Publishing: March 18th, 2021Trigger Warnings: verbal and physical abuse, rape, child abuse, child death, abortion, mutilation, trauma, grief, drug abuse
Page count: 414Publisher: Harper Voyager
Book Blurb
The Shadow in the Glass by J.J.A. 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.

A smouldering, terrifying new spin on Cinderella – perfect for fans of Laura Purcell and Erin Morgenstern.

Quote of the Book

“Eleanor couldn’t understand. The black-eyed woman had been sent to help her, hadn’t she? She was supposed to smile, and be kind, and tend Eleanor’s glorious future with a gentle hand. Instead, she had watered Eleanor’s hopes with blood, and now they had grown into twisted, monstrous things. How could she have done something like this?”

Song of the Book

First I wanted to go with Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson, because that seemed like a good match, even if a bit too pop-y for this book. Then I remembered The Rasmus’ song, In the Shadows and knew that was the perfect match. So here we go.

I’ve been watching
I’ve been waiting
In the shadows for my time
I’ve been searching
I’ve been living
For tomorrows all my life

Review

When I started reading The Shadow in the Glass, I had no expectations whatsoever. Which is probably a good thing. JJA Harwood‘s debut novel is a darker, gothic retelling of Cinderella set in Victorian – I assume – London. Eleanor is forced to work as a maid in her guardian, Mr. Pembroke’s quite neglected and shabby house. She is kinda stuck between the two worlds, as she longs to be a lady as was promised when Mrs. Pembroke took her in, while she also treated as an outsider by the other maids – except her friend, Aoife. Mr. Pembroke’s tendency to abuse and mistreat the servants does not make life any easier for Eleanor. Until one night, instead of a faery godmother, she makes a deal with the devil herself. 7 wishes in exchange for her soul. It’s not until she makes two wishes that she realizes the price she has to make each time. The question is, will she pay the price to reach her dreams or will she save her soul?

Placing this story in Victorian London was a rather clever idea, as the sooty, foggy London makes a perfect backdrop for the story unfolding before our eyes. And that’s probably the only aspect of the book I actually did enjoy. Then again, Harwood does not paint a lovely picture of the city we see through Eleanor’s eyes, who kinda looks at everything with disdain – well, everything that is below her assumed status, that is. I admit I’m a bit of a loss as to how I should feel towards Eleanor. On one hand, she is the poor girl, who lost her parents then the only person who supported her and was forced to work as a servant and trying to avoid becoming the prey of Mr. Pembroke’s desires. A girl who fights for her freedom and her place in life she longs for, trying to help her friends along the way. On the other, she looks down on everyone and uses them for her own purposes when that fits her. She is selfish and unlikeable and of course everyone else is to blame but her. Even when I was supposed to root for her to find happiness by the side of the man she loved, I just couldn’t make myself to do that wholeheartedly.

Probably the only likable character in the book was Charles, Mr. Pembroke’s son, and even then, he was unable to go against his father openly. But bless him, at least he tried and really had everyone’s best interest at heart. A stark contrast to the alcoholic, abusive, later morphine addict father he loved despite his faults. Then again, not sure how much he knew about what was going on in the house.

It takes a bit of time for the story to find its footing, and especially in the first half of the book I had issues with the repetitive writing. Since I’ve read an ARC I’m not sure how much will change in the final edition, obviously, but sometimes it felt like the writing didn’t flow as much as trodded along in the mud. But I was intrigued enough to read through to the end to see where the story was heading. Normally, I’m all about morally grey characters, where they have to make hard decisions then deal with the consequences, but it also helps if I can actually like them despite their faults. I could not like Eleanor. And while I understand why she was making the decisions she did, I also think she could have taken different ones. She had a choice. Though one interesting question is, does the fact that she acted under a supernatural influence, excuses her actions? That’s one the reader has to answer since the book does not give us a straight answer.

Ultimately, The Shadow in the Glass is an interesting read, one I didn’t really like, but one that raises some questions. If you got 7 wishes to do as you please, and ones you have to pay a high price for, would you take them? And how would you use them? Answering violence with violence is the right way? Does the intention excuses the action taken? Does reaching your dreams worth risking everything? Is there only one answer to any given question? While I support the idea in here that one has to stand up to the person who abuses people around them, Eleanor’s idea of a solution – even if she refused to acknowledge to herself – was less than ideal.

If you are looking for a faery tale retelling which is less glittery but considerably dark, then The Shadow in the Glass might be a good pick for you. But I warn you, it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted as it can be quite depressing at times. And though it wasn’t quite to my liking, I think JJA Harwood is someone we should pay attention to in the future. And a piece of advice: be careful what you wish for!

Our Judgement
Into a Cell with Them - 2.5 Crowns
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