Moonlight and Ashes: A fresh take on the Cinderella fairy tale

Moonlight and Ashes by Sophie Masson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMoonlight and Ashes by Sophie Masson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMoonlight and Ashes by Sophie Masson

This is one of three fairy tale retellings by Sophie Masson that are only tangentially based on a traditional tale, the others being The Crystal Heart (Rapunzel) and Scarlet in the Snow (Beauty and the Beast). Moonlight and Ashes (2012) tackles Cinderella, and is quite possibly the best of the three. Incorporating elements of the story that are usually forgotten in retellings (such as the magical hazel tree) and Masson’s own imagination, it’s a fun and unpredictable fantasy adventure.

Selena is a sixteen-year-old girl living with her spineless father and wicked stepmother, as well as two stepsisters who take great pleasure in making her life miserable. If you can get through the endless self-pity of the first few chapters (the story is told in first-person narrative) and a relatively straightforward retelling of the Cinderella story (Selena attends a royal ball in chapter ten) then the book really comes into its own, with plenty of adventure and intrigue.

A series of increasingly strange events sees Selena on the run with a court noble and a werewolf girl, traversing the countryside with palace guards in pursuit. Guided by visions of her deceased mother, Selena begins to learn more about her own magical heritage while discovering a plot against the royal family — one that only she can thwart.

Masson does a great job of creating backdrop of this invented world, with a history of moon-sisters (good witches) in a catastrophic war with Mancers (men who use magic for authoritarian ends, though it’s not quite as clear-cut as that by the end of the story) that has upset the balance of the land in a way only Selena can set right.

Throw in a few prophecies, a secret identity, some clever twists and a satisfying ending, and Moonlight and Ashes is a great example of how to do a fairy tale retelling well. It has to be similar enough to its source material that you know what it’s adapting, but also take the story in directions you weren’t expecting.

Some parts of the story feel a little superfluous in hindsight (Olga never actually turns into a werewolf, despite many circumstances in which it would have been very helpful for her to do so) but it’s a quick, fun read told with Masson’s usual lovely prose and creative ideas.

Published in 2012. Cinderella takes fate into her own hands in this brand new tale by Sophie Masson. Welcome to the story of Cinderella as you’ve never heard it before. There is a girl whose fortunes have plummeted from wealthy aristocrat to that of a servant girl. A magic hazel twig, a dashing prince, and a desperate escape from danger combine to tell the story of a girl who refuses to allow her fairy godmother to arrange her future for her. Instead, this is the story of Selena who will take charge of her own destiny and learn that her magic is not to be feared but celebrated. Pure fairytale—with all the romance, magic, and adventure that goes along with it.

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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One comment

  1. Never turns into a werewolf? I feel cheated!

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