Goodreads: Kingdom of Ash and Briars
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 2016
When teenager Bristal is tossed into the cursed Water in the Woods, she expects to die. Instead, she emerges as an elicromancer, one of the most powerful magic workers to live in centuries. Yet power comes with a price, and Bristal is soon caught up in a plot of dark elicromancy that could lay waste to an entire kingdom if she fails to make all the right choices. Threads of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and other classic tales emerge as Bristal fights for her people.
Kingdom of Ash and Briars is one of those books I really, really wanted to like but just couldn’t. The jacket copy promises Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Mulan, all wrapped up in an overarching “gritty fairy tale gone wrong.” This sounds excellent, but the way West goes about it is immeasurably disappointing, as none of the fairy tales in the book are given the time they really deserve.
West tries to cram a lot of action into a small space, and the result is extremely bad pacing. Conflicts are all resolved within pages of being introduced. There is no development, no suspense. It’s all quite episodic and choppy. This applies to some of the fairy tales, as well. The Cinderella aspect is a side note of about two chapters. And, of course, that means characters are not developed either. There is a of telling and very little showing because there simply is no time for it. Instalove is a common issue.
[Minor Spoilers Next Paragraph]
Because of this, I was simply never really invested in Bristal or her issues. Of course, Bristal often seems barely invested in her own problems. For instance, she is whisked away from her home to study magic once she becomes an elicromancer–and home never comes up again. Apparently she wasn’t really attached to anyone she used to know. I know she’s an orphan, but she was adopted and ought to have felt some responsibility towards her adoptive mother and any friends she had. Even weirder, roughly 16 years pass between the start of the novel when Bristal gains her powers and the story proper. This means Bristal must be roughly 30 years old, yet the book never drops the YA tone or the teenage voice for Bristal herself. There was a huge disconnect for me here.
Finally, a lot of the story was simply cliche. This was not because of the references to fairy tales, which could make any retelling “predictable” in some way. It was simply that everything fit into a neat little pattern of perfection, in ways that are overused in fantasy in particular. There are times cliches are satisfying, but I found this book just exhausting.
I was really looking forward to Kingdom of Ash and Briars. I wish I had more good things to say. Unfortunately, I wanted to DNF about 10 pages in and only finished because I was required to, having agreed to review the book for another site. I have to recommend passing on this one.