Gilded Ashes is a dark fairytale retelling of Cinderella, with a twist of dark fantasy that I found more engaging than the romance itself.
Maia, the impoverished orphaned daughter of the noble Alastorides family, lived as a servant in her late father’s house. Her fairy godmother was the dead spirit of her own mother, who had died many years ago but never left; because at her deathbed, she had called upon the Gentle Lord, the prince of demons, and made a bargain with him.
The Lady Alastorides was depicted to have done this out of love; she had thought that to become a ghost would be a small price to pay to protect her little daughter. I call that hardcore, incurable insanity, for obvious reasons. The price to pay for striking bargains with evil would always be higher than one could ever foresee. And it was; Lady Alastorides obtained the power to control demons – the sight of which would drive humans mad - and she commanded them to destroy anyone who made Maia upset.
She had forgotten that ghosts have no pity. That’s how I learned to smile. Father married again, and I smiled. Father died, and I smiled. Stepmother slapped me for the first time, and I smiled so hard I thought my face would crack.
Actually, an astonishing ratio of characters in this novella made similar bargains due to reasons relating to a rather skewed perspective of love. However. Maia is not one of them.
“There are a lot of things I want,” I say quietly and deliberately. “But I think I will keep what I have.” The Gentle Lord laughs again. “Then you are wiser than many. Farewell, Maia. I do not think we will meet again.”
Lord Anax, heir to the dukedom of Sardis, had to choose a bride in the upcoming ball, whom he intended to pick at random. He snarked at everyone and behaved like a petulant spoilt brat; as Maia found when her stepsister tasked her to deliver secret letters to him.
“A letter? When your master could use the morning post? You’re here to spy or steal or—”
“A love letter,” I say. “From my lady.”
“Of course.” He releases me, looking disgusted. “Another young lady who saw me only once but loves me more than life itself. Or is she one of the ones who sees me almost every day and weeps in secret because I never lower my eyes to hers?”
“There are a lot of them?” I ask. I always imagined that girls with money and fathers would be less desperate.
“Oh, dozens, though your lady is the only one bold enough to write me directly. Most of them just recite poems to a nameless cruel beloved in my presence. Or they have their brothers write me letters demanding to know my intentions, since I was so profligate as to say ‘Good morning.’ So tell me: Was it love at first sight, or did I slowly grow in her heart like ivy?”
Overall the romance was rather boring, but the dialogue was quite amusing to read at times :D