This “Cinderella” retelling stars motherless Ellison—Ella for short.
After her widowed father remarries, Ella finds herself now burdened with a dastardly stepfamily that begins to treat her as a servant. A secret passageway leads her to an ancient necromancy manual that grants her the powers to fight back against the abuse she suffers and that threatens her younger brother, Edward. Seeking solace at her mother’s grave one morning, Ella finds herself face to face with the generous, attractive, and heroic Prince William. But of course, when the royal family announces a festival to which all eligible women are invited, her stepsisters sabotage her. Here the story truly diverges from the familiar. To exact revenge on her stepfamily, Ella uses the necromancy tome to conjure spirits to do her bidding—but at great cost. As her brother grows more ill and frail by the day, Ella must look within to see if the monster she should fear is her stepmother or herself. Set in what feels like a largely white 19th-century alternative Europe, the tale is told in deliciously Gothic prose. Although the ending is drawn out a few beats too long and has a preachy overtone, what comes before is enough to keep readers glued for the resolution.
Boughan weaves a tale so mysterious and magical, harrowing and hopeful, with such deliciously dark villains, readers almost forget this is a retelling rather than a story of original beginnings. (Horror. 14-18)