Posted in Fantasy

JJA Harwood Spins a Faustian Re-Telling of Cinderella in “The Shadow in the Glass”

Image courtesy of NetGalley

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Harper 360 via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review

Plot Summary:

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 decide whether it’s one she’s willing to pay… (Netgalley, 2021).


While reading this book I kept thinking back on a popular phrase from the TV series Once Upon a Time. Rumpletiltskin would often tell the other characters “magic always comes with a price” when offering them a bargain. To me this seems to be a major theme of “The Shadow in the Glass”. As children we believe that a wave of a magic wand can make everything better. JJA Harwood’s story wants us to recognize the fact that there really is no “magical” solution to our problems and relaying on a force we often don’t understand typically results in more harm than good. This is a lesson that Ella, the main character, learns too late.

“The Shadow in the Glass” is definitely not your typical Cinderella re-telling. Set against the backdrop of Victorian London, Eleanor “Ella” is an orphan forced to become a maid by her depraved guardian. Yet the more we learn about her the less innocent she seems. There are numerous disturbing reports of violent childhood outburst and dark, often murderous thoughts. Ella’s “fairy godmother” bares a striking resemblance to the demon from Kit Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”. And Ella’s love interest, Charles Pembroke, proves himself time and again not to be Prince Charming. As a result the reader discovers a grittier, more sinister story than the one we have come to expect.

Though there are fantastical elements to this story, I thought “The Shadow in the Glass” did a great job of giving us a glimpse of both glittering London society as well as the seedy underbelly of Victorian London. As the reader we get to experience the glamour of a London ball, but not too far off there are people begging for their bread. Female servants are often at the mercy of their lecherous employers. My heart particularly broke for a character, who was raped and then fired after her unwanted pregnancy couldn’t be hidden anymore. Even worse she was seen as the responsible party rather than her employer.

Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5. I found myself enjoying the beginning and the end of the story much more than the middle. In my opinion, that has less to do with the writing than with the fact that I found myself losing sympathy for Ella as she began to make a lot of questionable choices. Also be warned that there is a fair amount of violence and tragedy throughout this story. I will say that I thought the ending was very well done. Following the darker theme Cinderella manages to lose her slipper, but not in a way that we could possibly expect.

If you are a fan of dark fairytale re-tellings or historical fantasy then I think you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

Quotes I enjoyed:

Blood, of course, and wanting. That is all magic is, at its core”

The demon

Power. The word was unfamiliar, even in Eleanor’s head. A dark, solid kind of word that made her think of smoke rings, blown from expensive cigars”

Eleanor “Ella”

It takes a great deal of magic to grant a wish, and magic has its price. All things do”

The demon

Let me know what you think of “The Shadow in the Glass”. Are you a fan of dark fairytales?

5 thoughts on “JJA Harwood Spins a Faustian Re-Telling of Cinderella in “The Shadow in the Glass”

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