I like words

Ash and Bramble | Thoughts

4.5 stars. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, for the main reason of its originality. Which is funny, given it's a Cinderella retelling...but in the loosest sense. Does it involve a mistreated stepdaughter slipping off to the ball with the help of a fairy godmother to meet the prince and fall in love? Yes! Are there glass slippers that fall off? Yes!

Do you think you know exactly what the story is about, then? 


Take the fairy godmother and turn her into a sadistic slave-driver who steals people of all ages from their lives, wipes their memories, and plops them down into her storyboard how she sees fit. Take the classic Disney blue and over-saturate the latest fashion trends with it, so each time you see reference to that blue you cringe. Take the magical gown and glass slippers and imagine the fingers that have strained to create such extravagance on a whim. And finally, take Cinderella and the Prince, and eliminate all notion of free-will in the path of the perfect, fairytale love story.

Now we have an interesting new take on an oft-recycled tale.

Pin isn't sure of anything...who she is, where she came from, what she's doing in a cold fortress surrounded by half-beast creatures forcing her into servitude long hours of the day. The only thing she knows is there is no possible way she could be a seamstress, for the simple fact that she is terrible at sewing. And she is a girl who asks questions, and refuses to accept her life is nothing more than a Now, with no Before or After.

"I know nothing about the Before. I don't know my name or where I came from, but I do know that I am a person who asks questions and risks pushing against the boundaries of obedience." 

When she encounters the shoemaker in the fortress, she sees a spark of something she recognizes, a flame that tells her she is not alone, and they do not belong locked away behind magic walls and deadly thorns. Their escape threatens the Godmother's orderly plans, and Shoe has no part in the story that must play out.

What I loved about this story wasn't just that it flipped all the preconceived notions of Cinderella around, but also that it kept surprising me. Just when I had it figured out, I'd come upon another twist, the characters taking a path I hadn't anticipated. Imagine an old magic, one engrained into time and space, that has certain patterns woven into the existence of humankind. Here, this magic is called Story, which likened to a love-story oriented version of Fate. Story repeats itself, and the Godmother facilitates the characters for each turning, helping the magic gain strength with each successful happy ending. And with each success, the grooves get harder to move away from, the pattern gets harder to break.

But the happy endings are not always such, as some of the chosen "characters" are strong-willed, knowing even when they can't remember their lives before that something is not right with their current existence. Pin has been chosen as the next Cinderella, but what can she do to fight against the pull of Story, especially when the prince is also just a stolen character, who is kind and quite likable in his own right? Each turn of events kept me wondering if the characters were truly acting on their own free-will, or if it was Story pushing them to towards the end it desired. Riddled with gray areas, Ash and Bramble kept me guessing until the end. I questioned every decision alongside each character, truly unsure what would be the right way to go. Characters were neither wholly good nor wholly evil in the face of the greater magic - even the Godmother was just a tool.

My one critique concerns the delivery of such an intricate tapestry of details. While I love the idea, and the foundation of the world and the magic of Story was made clear enough, the writing stumbled over the delivery of some of the necessary information. The magic system was definitely somewhat tricky to explain, and while the rest of the writing flowed naturally, the dialogue grew awkward and forced when it came time to elaborate on the finer points of what exactly was going on. This resulted in some rushed, info-dumping sentences. It's a small critique, but for a plot delving into the depths of free-will and self-awareness, I expected the delivery to be more eloquent.

I had a few different ideas in mind for how things ended. *Spoiler!* Mainly, I wish Pin had been able to regain her memories, of her time with Shoe when they escaped as well as before the fortress. I suppose that is part of the bittersweetness - not everything works out perfectly as in a fairytale.

Also, I can definitely get behind a Cinderella in red. Burn, girl.

Ash and Bramble Review
Virginia DeFeo