Review: “Charm” (A Cinderella Reverse Fairytale Book 1) by J.A. Armitage

Charm (reverse Fairytales) (Volume 1)

A review by Vanessa

What’s a girl to do when she suddenly finds herself the heir to a kingdom, in need of a husband and totally devoid of any romantic entanglements? First, she must mourn the loss of her older sister, and then she needs to take dancing and etiquette lessons fit for a Queen. The ball meant for Princess Charmaine’s older sister to find a husband among 100 applicants is still going to happen but Charmaine is going to have to do the dancing and the picking. It’s the last thing she ever wanted, especially since she sucks at dancing, but when she wanders down to the kitchen for a late dinner she finds help in the form of handsome, downtrodden, dishwasher named Cynder. He just happens to know how to dance, and he does magic. Romance isn’t something she can have with him, because he is a servant and a mage, but she just can’t help it. Cynder opens her eyes to so much, including love, and the tense state of the kingdom surrounding the subhuman treatment of magic users. But Charmaine needs to pick five potentials out of the 100, and over the next months, narrow it down to one. But when chaos erupts at the ball, and the magic users make it known how unhappy they are, things might just not go according to plan.

This book definitely had all of the meat and potatoes of a good story with enough depth of conflict and emotional gravitas to keep the readers’ interest. The twist of making the Cinderella character male, and the Prince a Princess, while throwing in the political climate surrounding magic and those who use it was interesting. Making his status as a magic user the source of Cynder’s downtrodden life was really intriguing. Princess Charmaine is actually an interesting character to follow, and the way she looks at and regards the other characters is an interesting lens through which to view the story. However, she herself at times seems a bit two dimensional. You want her to step up and be the hero of her story, as the Prince would be in the original story line, but she seems to end up flowing with the story rather than driving it along. She has great moments of intrigue occasionally, especially when plunged into romantic situations, but she lacks the gumption you would want from the hero of the story.

While the concept of this reversal of the fairy tale is an interesting one and it was overall a pleasant read, I couldn’t help being a little disappointed with the world building. Turning this classic fairy tale upside down and inside out presented a chance to create a whole new fictional universe, but I feel like it was a very large missed opportunity. Instead of being new it ended up being simply a modern day wherever, with modern technology like cameras and TV, but for some inexplicable reason they ride around in carriages, and there happens to be magic. It’s very difficult to get a mental picture of the kingdom. Are they a castle province in the middle of an American-like township, with modern apartments and businesses, etc? Or are they in an old timey British-like town with old architecture, and traditional crafters and artisans? It’s almost like Armitage took a bunch of elements of older fairy tale worlds, threw them in a blender with some modern day elements and hit frappe! The last thing you want to do with a first in a series is make it difficult to imagine how the characters fit into the world. I enjoyed this one enough to try the next in the series but I will be keeping my fingers crossed for stronger world building.

3 out of 5 stars

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Review: “The Crown’s Game” by Evelyn Skye

A review by Amanda.

Vika and Nikolai do not know that the other exists, but they have been training for the same job for most of their young lives. They are enchanters living in Russia, and each expects to one day serve as the Imperial Enchanter for the tsar. Their magic is a nature-based gift shared among all who have magical talent, drawn from one communal source. In order for the Imperial Enchanter to do their job well, he or she will need to draw on more than their fair share of the magic to become the most powerful magic user in the realm. Vika and Nikolai will have to compete in the Crown’s Game to prove which one is the most powerful and thus the most deserving of working for the tsar. The catch? Whoever loses the duel must die, no exceptions. Upon their death, the magic will return to the well for the newly appointed Imperial Enchanter to access when needed.

Enchanters engaged in the Crown’s Game are expected to be cold and ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to win. Nikolai is an orphan, sold to his ambitious magical mentor as a child. His best friend is Pasha, the eldest son of the tsar, and next in line to the throne. Nikolai will do whatever he can to elevate his status above the poverty line, to have freedom and security. Vika has been trained in secret by her father. She loves the power that her magic gives her and has the ambition to back it up. She chafes at the limits her father has given her, impatient to put her abilities to work for the good of Russia. Neither Nikolai or Vika knows what’s truly in store for them, and neither expects to feel anything besides animosity for the other.

The Crown’s Game entwined historical events with magical storytelling in a beautiful fashion. Nikolai, Vika, and Pasha all felt extraordinarily real, like people one might have met before. The reader was given enough insight into each character’s mind to understand their individual motivations, as well as how and why they perceived each other in certain ways. The explanation of magic’s existence was simple and practical, as was the reason for the necessity of death in the Game. Romance occurred organically and added a layer of complexity and tension to the otherwise straightforward plot. The descriptions of St Petersburg and other cities draw the reader in and offer a sense of familiarity. I sincerely hope that this book is merely the first in a captivating series with these people and places.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

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