The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

The Shadow in the Glass is possibly the darkest retelling I have read to date. It certainly earns it’s gothic depiction, that’s for sure!
Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins for giving me the opportunity to review this advanced copy.

Eleanor is a young girl who has lost both parents but is treated like a daughter by her mother’s friend and wealthy woman, Mrs Pembroke. However, upon Mrs Pembroke’s death, Eleanor is expected to work for her guardian Mr Pembroke, and slowly finds herself as Ella, a servant in his household.

Nonetheless, Eleanor’s tragic circumstances cannot stop her from dreaming: finding her escape through books, Eleanor saves her meagre wages and plans to escape to a life of fine clothes and plentiful food, free from the threat of poverty or abuse. When a mysterious book and a paper cut present a black-eyed woman offering to grant Eleanor’s wishes, it seems for a moment that all her dreams have come true. However, all magic comes at a price and this woman is no fairy godmother!

I did have to check what category this book will be marketed in as I felt the book description could have been trying to force this into the YA marketplace with the links to Cinderella. I am relieved to see that the publisher has placed this in the Adult category as I feel it is too dark to be considered otherwise. Also, as a mother of a 5-year-old Samuel, the carnage of the third wish may never actually leave me!
For anyone wondering about triggers I should note that there are regular references to sexual abuse, death and graphic scenes of miscarriage.

The Shadow in the Glass is a strange book for me if I am honest, in that I neither liked it nor disliked it.

I never particularly warmed to the character of Eleanor: I felt empathy for her during the opening pages and I wished for her happiness when she found romance; I really wanted to like her and I did try. However, Eleanor has almost an entitled air about her and constantly flits between wanting money, dresses and rich food to wanting to help the poor and keep her friends safe. An element of this could be intentional by the author in order to represent Eleanor’s young age of seventeen but there just did not seem to be any consistency for me and I found myself feeling indifferent to her fate.

Eleanor is also constantly justifying her actions to herself which I found frustrating. I understand that the hints of her trauma early in life and her behaviour hint at the darkness that already exists inside her and I do applaud this. I am certainly not suggesting that the character should appear as she does to Charles.
However, I think, if the reader could be made to love this tormented soul early in the novel, we would be more invested in her fate and would potentially shout at the later pages in frustration at the choices she makes.

The premise of the tale and the writing itself was very clever: Eleanor’s situation in life and a wish-granting woman appearing at midnight hinted at a Cinderella tale but nothing was forced down the reader’s throat. The sheer darkness of the content was also enough to make you forget about any link to a fairy tale until you reached the epilogue.

The reader is also entirely dependent on Eleanor as their eyes and ears due to the use of the first person perspective. This really added to the mystery behind the story and it isn’t until perhaps the 5th wish that it really dawns on the reader what is happening around Eleanor.
I also loved how the black-eyed woman steadily became less mother-like and more out of Eleanor’s control. It seamlessly hinted at Eleanor’s demise and loss of control of her own actions and thoughts.

The Shadow in the Glass is undeniably gothic, surrounded by the smog and dangers of Victorian London. It is a book which I am glad I read but would not return to again. The unique plot and mystery entrenched in the writing is second to none and the epilogue is a thing of brilliance: reminding us that we were expecting a happily ever after.

Eleanor’s life as a consequence of her actions and decisions is nothing short of a rollercoaster and JJA Harwood’s writing takes us along for the ride. In the end, Eleanor gets exactly what she wanted, riches, love and safety for her friends: but at what cost?

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