To me, this book felt like a warm hug or a cosy blanket. It was comforting, uplifting and pure joy to read.
The premise is an interesting one: a retelling of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, set in the early Victorian period – a perfect combination of 19th century historical fiction and fairytale retellings, which are two of my favourite things to read! This isn’t any magic in this book; it’s a straight-up, clean historical romance, perfect for Austen fans.
What makes this novel extra unique is that it’s told in epistolary form. The characters of Eleanor and Isabella (Cinderella and Belle) are cousins through the remarriage of Eleanor’s father to Isabella’s aunt, and the story is told through the cousins’ regular correspondence. The epistolary format meant that this wasn’t a fast, action-packed novel, but I actually found that to be a merit as it made the letters feel very authentic.
Another point to note about the format is that the author set herself an additional challenge in writing the whole novel in keeping with period language and tone – a challenge which was met with impressive ease. Whilst completely immersed in the story, it was so easy to believe that these letters really had been written by two young ladies during the 1840s.
In terms of plot, I thought the fairytales were introduced in a very clever way. The elements of the original stories didn’t feel forced, but rather were subtle additions which made me smile. I particularly liked the way Cinderella’s role as servant to her stepsisters was brought in by having Eleanor forced to play the pianoforte at evening events so that her sisters could dance, whilst rarely being given the opportunity herself.
I can sometimes find that the characters of Cinderella and Belle a bit dull in retellings – but here I thought each character had a unique voice and personality. The dual storyline also gave an interesting structure to the plot, leading to ebbs and flows which kept me wanting to read on.
All in all, this was a truly lovely and unique historical fiction which completely swept me up in its romance. If you’re a fan of well-researched historical fiction with main characters to root for and love interests you wish could be real, then I think you will love it too!