Book Review: The Shadow in the Glass by JJA 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.

This is a darkly gothic story loosely based on Cinderella. You can see the Cinderella base to the story, there is a Fairy Godmother, wishes, shoes, a midnight connection and our main character is called Ella (Eleanor), beyond that The Shadow in the Glass is very much its own story.

This Victorian set story is very dark, more in line with the original fairy tales than the Disney versions most of us are familiar with in feel. Ella’s situation isn’t a good one at the start of the story but she is managing. Put to work as a housemaid after the death of her adoptive mother Ella longs for the days when she was treated as a Lady, she finds solace in the library of the house after hours, her place of escape.

It is there that Ella meets her Fairy Godmother and agrees to a deal with her in exchange for seven wishes. After this the book slowly descends into a deeper and darker story as Ella comes to learn the price of her wishes but also comes to rely on them more and more.

Ella sometimes didn’t make the best decisions and she wasn’t always the best at thinking through the consequences of her actions and what that would mean both for herself and those around her. I didn’t find this frustrating as is sometimes the case with characters who don’t stop and think. Instead it demonstrated Ella’s desperation and clouded thinking.

As the reader we slowly learn more about Ella’s background through out the book as well. Not everything is a straightforward as it initially seems. I really felt for Ella even as she made bad choices, there were those that she genuinely loved and tried to do her best for.

The characters around her were not always pleasant, her guardian and master of the house was a drunk who systematically coerced and raped his young female housemaids before turning them out on the street with no reference once the inevitable happened and they were pregnant. This behaviour was enabled by the Housekeeper who turned a blind eye.

Granborough House where Ella lived and worked was almost a character in its own right as well, indeed the house seemed to mirror Ella’s circumstances as the story progressed. The descriptions of the house were vivid and gave a real feel for the setting.

Dark fantasy almost dipping into horror at points this was a good read.