A Curse of Ash and Iron
by Christine Norris
My Rating: 4.5 of 5.0
Benjamin Grimm knows the theater is much like real life. In 1876 Philadelphia, people play their parts, hiding behind the illusion of their lives, and never revealing their secrets.
When he reunites with his childhood friend Eleanor Banneker, he is delighted. His delight turns to dismay when he discovers she has been under a spell for the past 7 years, being forced to live as a servant in her own home, and he realizes how sinister some secrets can be.
She asks for his help, and he can't refuse. Even if he doesn't believe in 'real' magic, he can't abandon her.
Ellie has spent the long years since her mother's death under the watchful and unforgiving eye of her stepmother. Bewitched and hidden in plain sight, it seems no one can help Ellie escape. Not even her own father, who is under a spell of his own. When she sees Ben one evening, it seems he is immune to the magic that binds her, and her hope is rekindled along with her friendship.
But time is running short. If they do not find a way to break the spell before midnight on New Year's Eve, then both Ellie and her father will be bound forever.
Ellie and Benjamin were best friends as children of 10, even though she was the daughter of a known and respectable Philadelphia family and he was only the son of their wonderful cook. The pair were abruptly torn apart when Ellie’s new step-mother, Olivia, her former governess, fired Ben’s mother. That was another step of the terrible sorrows that began with the accidental death of Ellie’s mother. Now Ellie has spent the last seven years as a servant in her own home. She cannot escape because she must remain to take care of her father whose illness of the past year has gotten worse.
Rebecca, Ellie’s step-sister, is fascinated by clockworks. But she is trapped by her mother’s ambitious machinations as Olivia seeks a rich husband for Rebecca. Olivia has her eye on a certain sophisticated young man of the ton, Hamilton Scott. Hamilton is bored by the match-making mother and the witless young girls being pushed at him, but finds himself oddly attracted to Rebecca’s mysterious companion.
Ellie knows from what she has observed that she and her father are under a spell and curse caused by her step-mother. She doesn’t fully understand it but she senses an urgency to reverse the spell and escape before it is too late. Ellie is delighted to see Ben after seven years apart but she must act with stealth to meet him. She must dare to share her secrets in the hope that he will believe and help her.
Ben is fascinated by magic but knows that it is based on the arts of science and illusion. He finds it hard to believe in curses and spells until strange experiences and revelations begin to make that possibility more real. He and Ellie always promised to be there for each other and he doesn’t want to let this lovely young woman down. He will do everything he can to help her.
This is a lovely, imaginative and creative spin on the Cinderella story. There is a wicked step-mother, a kind, but equally trapped step-sister and a behind the scenes angel or fairy godmother. However the story is more intricate with a curse as a good twist and a love triangle adding conflict and interest. I loved the steampunk and clockwork elements to the story too. The writing has a very nice lyrical bent, with wonderful descriptions. I recommend this to readers who enjoy creative storytelling with good writing, and also to those who enjoy fairy tales with a twist. And of course those who like steampunk and clockwork will like that aspect too.
I received this ebook through NetGalley for an honest review. It qualifies for my NetGalley Challenge.