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.
**** Huge thank you to Holiday House for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!****
Let me just say….wow I did not expect to love this book as much as I did! It’s magical, wonderful, amazing, and an all around fantastic debut novel! “Kingdom of Ash and Briars” is definitely one of my favorite reads in 2016 too because it is PERFECT for any fan of fantasy (which I am) and it blends four fairy tales together seamlessly and therefore is perfect for any fan of retellings as well. Seriously, there are so many wonderful things about this book I don’t even know where to start..well maybe at the beginning right?
The story starts out fast paced and grabs your attention immediately with Bristal (the MC) being kidnapped and whisked away to the Water to see if she will become one of the ancient, magical elicromancers. Exciting stuff right? We also get some good insight into the world right away with explanations of the magic system and what elicromancers are but I won’t give any of that away because it’s just so great to read through! There’s just some great, classic world building in this book complete with the always fun royal politics too.
I also love the way Hannah West weaved the tales of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, and Emma together. In my eyes it was flawless. We see Bristal act as a fairy godmother to both the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty characters and watch as she disguises herself as a man to join one of the prince’s group of soldiers. It was so much fun reading and trying to guess how each retold fairy tale would play out and who was acting as which character, if you’re familiar with these tales it is almost guaranteed to be enjoyable for you!
(Also on a side note I never read “Emma” by Jane Austen so I have no idea how it fit into this story, if anyone would like to enlighten me PLEASE do so!)
Then the main threat in the story is the impending war between the villain and their gathered army of supernatural creatures and the continent of Nissera, so basically Bristal is running around shape-shifting like a mad woman to ensure each character is doing what they can to prepare for the incoming war. There are also many smaller stories (the fairy tales if you will) that all intersect throughout the main plot interlinking everything into one. There are so many things going on guys, it’s awesome and there are so many crazy plot twists too! I was freaking out to the point where I’m fanning my face and yelling “NO, NO, NO!”. You guys know how that goes…..
My only complaint about this book is that at times during the story I felt like some stuff was a little too convenient. Certain things would happen to make sure everything worked out perfectly, it wasn’t annoying but at times it was kind of unbelievable.
Overall though the plot line is magnificent it combines every element of YA Fantasy that I love: magic, ball gowns, (good) romance, world-building, royalty, class good vs. evil, and a good old fashioned villain.
There are actually quite a few characters in “Kingdom of Ash and Briars” and they were all amazing, I LOVE well developed secondary characters it’s a must have for me in a book.
Bristal is the perfect heroine she’s selfless, brave, and clever. Her sole purpose is to protect the kingdoms and guide them even if it means giving up her own happiness. It’s so….honorable. Gosh I just loved her so much and she’s definitely a heroine you can’t help but root for the entire time.
Then there are so many other characters: Anthony, Charles, Elinor, Rosamund, Brack, and Tamarice – all amazing characters that add so much to the story. (Also Brack is my favorite, just saying.)
I’d also like to share without spoilers that the villain is so realistic and well developed. I love villains with depth, ones that we can FEEL for and understand and know why they chose to act the way they did. It makes the story so much more interesting when we feel conflicted about the antagonist.
Now I’m pretty sure I say this in every review and if you’ve been following me for a while you already know…I do not like romance especially in YA books because they are almost always riddles with tropes. So I’m glad to say that I adored the romances in this book.
While some of the lesser romances between our fairy tale retelling princes and princesses aren’t quite as developed and are borderline insta-love they’re still just so cute. I mean come on they’re fairy tales so the insta-love can actually be pulled off without nauseating anyone. But the real romance between Bristal and Anthony is so beautiful and swoon-worthy…awww my poor little heart! Everything about them being together worked, it really did.
“Kingdom of Ash and Briars” is a wonderfully told tale full of action, romance, and magic. The only thing that upsets me is that it’s a standalone and I want more! I will absolutely be checking out anything else Hannah West writes because just going by this debut novel I can guarantee I’ll love it.
Yes, a million times yes! If you love YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings this book will be perfect for you since it combines all elements of each so well!
Links: Goodreads / Amazon / Book Depository