A prince. A ball. A glass slipper left behind at the stroke of midnight. The tale is told and retold, twisted and tweaked, snipped and stretched, as it leads to happily ever after. But it is not the true Story.
A dark fortress. A past forgotten. A life of servitude. No one has ever broken free of the Godmother’s terrible stone prison until a girl named Pin attempts a breathless, daring escape. But she discovers that what seems to be freedom is a prison of another kind, one that entangles her in a story that leads to a prince, a kiss, and a clock striking midnight.
To unravel herself from this new life, Pin must choose between a prince and another – the one who helped her before and who would give his life for her. Torn, the only thing for her to do is trade in the glass slipper for a sword and find her own destiny.
This is my fourth book review this month! I’m ridiculously proud of myself for posting so many this month, even though I know it’s not that many… but hey, I am perpetually behind on my reviews.
ANYWAY. Today I’m reviewing Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas, which I actually read for school! I interviewed Ms. Prineas for a major City of Literature project in which I had to write a profile of an author from the Iowa City area. Excerpts from that interview will be posted here on the 29th!
I was allowed to write about ANYONE, living or deceased, but I chose Sarah Prineas because, let’s face it, I am more than a little obsessed with fairy tales and retellings of them… and “Cinderella” is my favorite!
I LOVED the premise of Ash & Bramble. The fairy godmother in this story is evil, and she derives her power from each and every person whose lives play out the way she wants them to. Pin, the protagonist, finds out that she is being manipulated into living a certain kind of life, but she won’t settle for it. She resists. A happy ending with a prince she doesn’t truly love instead of a happy ending with a lowly shoemaker she actually cares for? Unthinkable. In Ash & Bramble this is called “Storybreaking,” and the godmother loses power when this happens.
Ash & Bramble is basically metafiction about the traditional narrative of fairy tales, and in this way it strongly reminded me of Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is a retelling of “Cinderella” with a bisexual protagonist. These novels approach this subject in different ways – Ash is implicit and subtle, while Ash & Bramble explicitly resists the narrative – but in the end the result is the same. I love subverted fairy tale retellings, and these two are the best I’ve yet found!
Oh, and did I mention there are LGBTQ+ characters? They aren’t major characters like in Ash, but YAY FOR QUEER CHARACTERS IN FANTASY. They were so cute – and so done with straight fairy tale narratives, too!
…I’m going to use this opportunity to include an excerpt from a review posted by the blog Kid Lit Frenzy:
“One of the aspects of the book I enjoyed most was how Story is essentially symbolic of patriarchal European ideas – in order to break Story, the storybreakers must change the story they are living within to such an extent that Story can no longer continue on, and for one of the storybreakers (forced into the role of Rapunzel), falling in love with another woman is enough to stop Story in its tracks. (At this point in the book I imagined a robot with steam pouring out of it, screaming “LESBIAN PRINCESS DOES NOT COMPUTE WITH HETERONORMATIVE EUROPEAN PATRIARCHY,” Dalek-style.)”
YES YES YES. ALL OF THE YES.
Another thing I loved about Ash & Bramble was that it dealt with where the STUFF in fairy tales comes from. Who makes all those pretty dresses? WHO MAKES THE GLASS SLIPPERS?! In this story, the fairy godmother doesn’t use magic – she uses slaves, and Pin is one of them. I loved this aspect of the story because that was something I’d never thought of before, and now it will be all I can think of whenever I reread or rewatch a fairy tale.
About halfway through this book, it dawned on me that I was reading a dystopian retelling of “Cinderella.” OMG YAYYYY. The only other dystopian retellings I know of are Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, so I was excited to find another. Ash & Bramble is nowhere near as scientific as Cinder, but both stories are clearly set in a dystopian world.
During my interview with Sarah Prineas, she named Tolkien as one of her influences, and AHHH THAT MADE ME SUCH A HAPPY LITTLE FANGIRL because I’d noticed a similarity to Tolkien in her writing.
SO. Those are all the things I adored about Ash & Bramble. Was there anything I disliked? Well… dskfjhgdfkjhds it’s complicated. SO COMPLICATED. Basically, there are a few things that bothered me at the beginning, only to resolve themselves at the end?
For example, the first part of the book – set in the godmother’s fortress – was very slow. This book is around 450 pages long, so I don’t know whether the solution to this would be to cut some pages or to simply speed up the opening section. Right now, I’m leaning towards keeping the length the same – I wanted the beginning to move a little faster, and I wanted the fight scenes towards the end to slow down because I thought that they happened really quickly.
(The middle section was fine, though. The middle section was perfect. Actually, that really impresses me because I think a lot of authors suck at keeping the middles of their stories interesting. SO YEAH. The middle section was my favorite.)
The other thing that I am conflicted about was the romance. Pin and Shoe had a GINORMOUS case of Insta-Love and I spent the first few pages being all like, “No. NO NO NO NO NO.” However, by the end of the story they actually knew one another and they had romantic chemistry together.
I’m still not really sure how I feel about this part of the book because I really, really dislike stories that start out with Insta-Love, but I also realize that a lot of stories never move beyond Insta-Love like Ash & Bramble did, so… I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have some issues with the beginning of this relationship, but I also appreciate that Ash & Bramble made me actually believe in their love unlike so many other stories?
All in all, I really enjoyed Ash & Bramble – and I’m so so SO glad that I chose it for my City of Lit project. I mean, I got to read about fairy tales FOR SCHOOL?! And I wrote about subverting fairy tales in my author profile paper, which was super nerdy and fun.
I would recommend Ash & Bramble to those who are looking for a fairy tale retelling that stands out from the rest. Maybe you’re a bit tired of this current craze in YA? This is definitely the book you want to read if you want to find inspiration in this genre again. I loved how Ash & Bramble both subverted fairy tales and mused upon the nature of stories in general!