Date of Publication: April 1, 2014
Orphan Maia doesn't see the point of love when it only brings pain: Her dying mother made a bargain with the evil, all-powerful ruler of their world that anyone who hurt her beloved daughter would be punished; her new stepmother went mad with grief when Maia's father died; and her stepsisters are desperate for their mother's approval, yet she always spurns them. And though her family has turned her into a despised servant, Maia must always pretend to be happy, or else they'll all be struck dead by the curse.
Anax, heir to the Duke of Sardis, doesn't believe in love either—not since he discovered that his childhood sweetheart was only using him for his noble title. What's the point of pretending to fall in love with a girl just so she'll pretend to fall in love with him back? But when his father invites all the suitable girls in the kingdom to a masked ball, Anax must finally give in and select a wife.
As fate would have it, the preparations for the masquerade bring him Maia, who was asked by her eldest stepsister to deliver letters to Anax. Despite a prickly first encounter, he is charmed and intrigued by this mysterious girl who doesn't believe in love. Anax can't help wishing to see her again—and when he does, he can't help falling in love with her. Against her will, Maia starts to fall in love with him too. But how can she be with him when every moment his life is in danger from her mother's deadly bargain?
I've heard about the grim adaptations of the original Cinderella tale but I've never read one. In Gilded Ashes, Hodge presents us with just that. A dark Cinderella tale set in her darkly rich world of shadows, demons and Greek gods.
My favourite thing about this story and Hodge's work in general is that she always gives her readers a glorious backstory. If you've ever wondered exactly why Cinderella's stepmother and sisters were so mean, then why not read Hodge's take. Every character had their spotlight moments in which they got to tell us how they became the people they were and garner our sympathy. Evil or innocent I came to love and appreciate all of them.
Ignifix has a little cameo in this one but was mentioned many times. I'm glad to see that he retained his dark lord character in this novel but still had those moments of light. The deal making process was also very nice to read about, as many deals were struck and many punishments received.
The shining couple Cinderella or in this case Maia and Lord Anax were awesome, as 111 pages could make them. I liked the way their romance built up to the special ball night. Nothing instalovey, a lot of conversation, which led to understanding, a tentative friendship and finally romance.
My favourite relationship though, was between Maia and Koré and their respective mothers. Both girls were brave and intelligent but had chosen completely different paths for themselves. I loved their cold companionship, to me it was closer then the one Maia could ever have with her super affection younger stepsister.
Overall, I greatly recommend this series. If you are unsure about trying Cruel Beauty and want a taster of the writing style and world then give this one a go. For me it was a great continuation story. It was fun, quick and enjoyable.