Published by Holiday House on September 15th 2016
Bristal, an orphaned kitchen maid, lands in a gritty fairy tale gone wrong when she discovers she is an elicromancer with a knack for shape-shifting. An ancient breed of immortal magic beings, elicromancers have been winnowed down to merely two - now three - after centuries of bloody conflict in the realm. Their gifts are fraught with responsibility, and sixteen-year-old Bristal is torn between two paths. Should she vow to seek the good of the world, to protect and serve mortals? Or should she follow the strength of her power, even if it leads to unknown terrors? She draws on her ability to disguise herself as a man to infiltrate a prince's band of soldiers, and masquerades as a fairy godmother to shield a cursed princess, but time is running out. As an army of dark creatures grows closer, Bristal faces a supernatural war. To save the kingdoms, Bristal must find the courage to show her true form.
Building on homages to Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen’s Emma and the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan, Hannah West makes a spectacular debut.
Kingdom of Ash and Briars starts off rather brutally. A kitchen maid named Bristal is being dragged to a pool that will possibly turn her into a elicromancer – immortal magical beings that usually have one obvious power. Or it could kill her. She’s brought there after being seen turning into a rabbit by one of the men. Lucky for her, she survives and becomes an elicromancer, but finds there are only two left in the world – one who seems more sage, the other more rash. Both find her and begin to teach her their ways.
Unfortunately, one of them begins to embrace the darker side of power and goes off on her own. Bristal sees her again when she is attending the ceremony of the new princess. This is where the fairy tales start to come into play. Bristal has been training to take on different forms and the one she holds is one of the plump fairies giving blessings to the newborn princess. It transforms into a retelling of Sleeping Beauty – with Bristal as the “Aunt” who takes care of Rosie. It’s more complex than that, as Bristal has duties elsewhere to aide the kingdoms on a brink of war with each other.
There’s a couple other fairy tales mixed in (the Disney versions) such as Mulan and Cinderella. I thought it was nice to see the main character as not at a focal point of a romance. Yes, she eventually has romantic feelings, but she spends the first half of the book more integrating into her role. I think my favorite parts was her interactions with the prince and his small group of men. Bristal has never felt she has belonged and she gets her first taste of that feeling when with them.
I really enjoyed this somewhat twisty not really a fairy tale type story. The romance was lovely, the hints of fairy tale were fun, even if Disney-esque versions. Bristal really made the book for me, all the things she had to go through and learn and to not cave and join with evil forces.
Overall, an interesting mix of fairy tales and high fantasy with an intriguing plot and lovely romance.