The Shadow in the Glass – J.J.A. Harwood

Spoilers (in the Content Warnings)

‘I’d like to propose a bargain. I will offer you seven wishes. Whatever you ask for, I shall grant you. There are few limits.’

In this dark retelling, Eleanor is our Cinderella. After the death of her parents she was cared for by Mrs Pembroke, who Eleanor remembers fondly. It’s been three years since Mrs Pembroke’s death and in that time Eleanor’s once soft hands have reddened and cracked, the result of her new role as one of Mr Pembroke’s housemaids.

Eleanor’s life is a daily struggle; her body aches from the work she does, she is never warm enough and she is always hungry. Then there is the constant threat of Mr Pembroke himself. Reading is Eleanor’s only escape.

The dark spines of the books were rows of windows, waiting for the shutters to be pulled back.

Eleanor imagines what she would wish for if she were granted some like the characters in books she’s read. Eleanor wishes that she could live a life without poverty, hunger and danger.

Eleanor tried to be good, she tried to be kind, but she wanted so many things that she could feel them gnawing at her from the inside.

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Eleanor needs to be careful what she wishes for, though, because her fairy godmother isn’t the one who made you believe bibbidi-bobbidi-boo was a real spell.

No, wishes have some serious consequences in this fairytale.

Set in the nineteenth century, you know things are going to be pretty dire for women in general, but the teenagers who work at Granborough House also live with the constant threat of danger inside the house. I empathised with all of the housemaids but never connected with Eleanor. I didn’t like her, which made it difficult to become invested in the potential the wishes had to improve her circumstances.

I found some parts of the book repetitive and it felt like a longer read than it actually was, predominantly because the settings and the majority of the women’s lives were quite bleak.

I enjoyed anticipating how Eleanor’s wishes would be granted and seeing how she would react when she was given what she asked for, especially when expectation and reality didn’t line up.

I am left with a few unanswered questions but none that will keep me up at night. I expect the ending may not be for everyone but I loved it.

‘If you want something, my dear, you must ask for it.’

Content warnings include abortion/miscarriage, physical abuse and the consistent threat of sexual assault, along with mention of previous instances.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperVoyager, an imprint of HarperCollins UK, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A deliciously gothic story of wishes and curses – a new dark fairy tale set against a Victorian backdrop full of lace and smoke.

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 …

Kingdom of Souls – Rena Barron

I don’t really know where to begin with this review. There was so much about Kingdom of Souls that I loved. I adored the world building, the rich mythology and learning how magic works in Arrah’s world, yet at the same time I was introduced to so many characters, tribes and gods that I found it difficult to keep track of them.

Enter my cheat guide. I had no idea who or what was going to be important later on and I was so overwhelmed in the beginning (up to about 20%) that I found myself frantically making notes about practically everyone. I’ve included these notes in this review mostly for my benefit in case I need a refresher course prior to embarking upon the second book but if they help you in any way, you’re welcome.

I’ve marked them as spoilers because I mention some characters that don’t even appear in this story until near the end. I’ve tried to avoid spoilery type info dumps here but please still be aware that you may read something in there you don’t want to know yet.

Arrah’s Family

  • Arti – mother, from the Mulani tribe, “Ka-Priestess of the Kingdom”
  • Oshe – father, from the Aatiri tribe, has a store in the West Market
  • Efia – sister

Arrah’s Family’s Staff

  • Nezi – porter, has burnt hands and a limp
  • Ty – matron, does the cooking, doesn’t speak to anyone, has “episodes”
  • Terra – has only been on staff for 2 years, does the rest of the chores, Arrah’s age, gossips

Arrah’s Friends

  • Hassana – female, beautiful, Aatiri
  • Rudjek – male, smells of lilac and woodsmoke
  • Sukar – male, tattoos on his forearms and shaved head glow when the magic is there or he’s near someone with the gift, Zu

Rudjek’s Family

  • Serre – mother, daughter of the North, her country is Delene
  • Suran Omari – father, Vizier
  • Uran – older brother, whose mind was broken during the Rite of Passage
  • Jemi – older brother, whose mind was broken during the Rite of Passage, killed a merchant
  • Crown Prince Kelechi – brother, two years older than Rudjek
  • Second Son Narmer – brother, Arrah’s age (16)

Rudjek’s Attendants

  • Majka – best friend, gendar, parents are commanders under the Master of Arms, 17
  • Kira – 17, father is the Master of Scribes

Kingdom Hierarchy

  • Almighty One – the most powerful position, held by Dereje, who was best friends with Suran before he rose to the throne
  • Vizier – second most powerful position, held by Suran Omari, “governs the Kingdom”
  • Ka-Priestess – the third most powerful position, held by Arti, “the voice of the orishas”

The Vizier’s Guildmasters

  • Master of Arms – Rudjek’s aunt and the Vizier’s twin sister, General Solar, “leads the military forces of the Kingdom: the gendars, the guardsmen, and the shotani.”
  • Master of Scribes – Ny (Kira’s father)
  • Master of Scholars
  • Master of Laborers
  • Artisan’s guild – Guildmaster Ohakim

Shotani – elite assassins, have some magic, live in the Kingdom

Crests – show rank or position

  • Omari – lion’s head
  • Sukkara (the royal family) – ram, “symbol of their blood connection to the sun orisha, Re’Mec”

Some of the Locations

  • Tamar – where Arrah, Rudjek and their families live
  • East Market – in Tamar, Kofi (Arrah’s friend) works there, charlatans are also there
  • West Market – in Tamar, Oshe’s store is there
  • Kefu – time works differently there

Tribes of Heka – Heka gives magic to the tribes

  • Aatiri – “do not walk or leap, for clouds of magic carry them. Grandmother’s silver locs coil on top of her head like a crown, and she wears a half dozen necklaces of teeth. The Aatiri are tall and lean with prominent cheekbones and wiry hair braided like mine.” Arrah’s grandmother, Malikah, is the Aatiri chieftain. Malikah’s grandmother was Yaaba. Other ancestors are Machie and Ara.
  • Kes – the smallest tribe. Their lands “border the valley to the northwest. Their diaphanous skin and near-colorless eyes remind me of the Northern people.” “lightning cuts across the sky and sparks dance on their skin”
  • Litho – “lies southwest of the Temple of Heka in the woodlands. White dust covers their bodies and vests of rawhide.” “The ground shifts beneath their feet, moving as gentle as ocean waves”
  • Mulani – “live the closest to the Temple of Heka.” “It was a Mulani woman Heka revealed his presence to when he first descended from the stars a thousand years ago. Now the Mulani chieftain serves as his voice. The position would belong to my mother had she not left and never looked back.” – their witchdoctors are all women. “They have broad shoulders, curvy bodies, and skin ranging from deep brown to alabaster.” The Mulani Chieftain is Arti’s first cousin
  • Zu – “from the mountains south of the Temple” “leap above our heads, their feet supported by air. Tattoos cover their bodies and they wear crowns of antlers”, the Zu seer is Barasa

Orishas – worshipped in the Kingdom, they have human and animal aspects

  • Esi – the sky god
  • Fayouma – the mother of beast and fowl
  • Fram – the balancer of life and death
  • Kekiyé – orisha of gratitude
  • Kiva – protector of children and innocence
  • Koré – moon orisha – female, twin god
  • Mouran – master of the sea
  • Nana – god that shaped the earth
  • Oma – orisha of dreams
  • Re’Mec – sun orisha – male, twin god
  • Sisi – guardian of fire
  • Ugeniou – the harvester
  • Unnamed – cobras around each of her arms
  • Yookulu – weaver of seasons

Cravens

  • Fadi – the group’s leader, male, excels at shifting
  • Juhanah – female – group’s best tracker
  • Lumo – Mensah’s twin, group’s best healer
  • Mensah – Lumo’s twin, group’s best fighter
  • Riham – female, shortest of the group, “can bend space and manipulate her environment”

Demons

  • Dayo – Demon King
  • Merka – possesses a cat before they possess a fisherman

Familiars – shadowy, shapeless and ever changing. They can only be seen by people with tribal blood. They’re believed to be relics of people destroyed by demons. “Wherever the Familiars go, death soon follows.”

I think it was because I was so bogged down in my note taking that I managed to entirely bypass the whole ‘connecting with any of the characters’ experience. One character that I thought I would form a connection with early on died soon thereafter and the villain I was hoping to cheer on didn’t make much of an impact on me.

Had I found the guide on the book’s website before I read this book instead of after, my reading experience may have been vastly different. I learned things from this guide that I missed entirely when I read the book. However, considering a couple of the characters illustrated on the cast page don’t exist in the first book, perhaps some of the guide also relates to later books in the series.

Impacts of trauma play out in various ways with multiple characters, which I found very interesting. Although it’s not mentioned by name it’s almost certain a few characters could be diagnosed with PTSD. The violation involved in the mind manipulation wasn’t that dissimilar to survivors’ experiences of sexual assault.

Some of Arrah’s thought patterns were quite repetitive. Hearing about how much of a disappointment she was to her mother and how she had longed to have magic her entire life provided me with sufficient underdog fuel to want her to succeed initially, but the amount of times she lamented both began to annoy me as the story progressed.

Although I witnessed plenty of action, with fight scenes, destruction and all round mayhem, it also felt like I spent a good portion of this book waiting around with Arrah for the next sequence of events to begin to unfold.

The ending was quite abrupt and left a ton of unanswered questions, which will hopefully be addressed in the next two books (yep, I found out after I started reading that this is the first book of a trilogy). However, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll still be as eager to know some of the answers, like what two of the characters were whispering about, by the time the second book is released.

If I reread this book I would spend less time focusing on the minutiae and try instead to form meaningful connections with the main characters. It felt like Arrah’s world was real and this is why I’ve given this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ instead of ⭐️⭐️⭐️. Had I been emotionally invested in Arrah’s journey this could have been a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ book for me.

Content warnings include abusive and neglectful parents, animal possession, blood magic, death by suicide, death of children and mind manipulation.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperVoyager, an imprint of HarperCollins UK, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Magic has a price – if you’re willing to pay.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval.

There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit.

She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees … unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.