Rating: 3.5 stars
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Cinder has lived the past 10 years posing as a female servant in his own home. His stepmother forced Cinder to pretend to be a girl following his father’s death so she could claim the inheritance for herself. Now Cinder spends his days slaving over his stepmother and stepsisters, wishing he could be his true self instead of hiding all the time. He knows his days posing as a girl are drawing to a close. Although he is a late bloomer, at 18 he is starting to show signs of manhood, though he still manages to pass.
One day Cinder’s stepmother orders him to press all the dresses as the girls have been invited to a ball. After seeing the women off, Cinder is surprised to encounter his fairy godmother who insists on dressing him in the finest gown and sending him to the ball as well. Once there, Cinder tries to keep a low profile. He knows it is a crime for a servant to impersonate nobility and he worries what will happen if anyone finds out he is really a man. But when a handsome man sweeps him into a dance, Cinder can’t resist. He finds himself drawn to the stranger and the two spend a wonderful evening dancing and talking and even stealing a kiss. But when the clock approaches midnight, Cinder must flee, losing his slipper along the way.
The next day Cinder realizes his dancing partner is none other than the prince. He is terrified to learn the prince is looking for the woman he danced with, sure he will be caught. Though he longs for more time with the man he fell for that evening, Cinder is also scared of what will happen if the prince learns the truth and realizes Cinder has been lying all along. But the prince is determined to find his lovely partner and Cinder just might get lucky enough to have his true love claim him for who he is.
So this is obviously a spin on the Cinderella tale with a bit of a unique cross dressing twist added in. In some ways I really liked this spin as it takes the traditional version of the story into a new direction, even beyond just moving it to m/m. Cinder is very feminine looking and hasn’t really developed yet. At 18, he can still pass for a woman and no one realizes the truth. I appreciated that he gets himself caught in this lie, fearful that revealing the truth will get him in trouble because he is a servant. But I also found some aspects of this deception a bit troublesome. First, we have to accept that at 18 Cinder can still pass as a woman (and we are not talking with the aid of makeup and accessories here, he just wears a dress and has long hair). And I guess factoring in malnutrition to keep him small and a feminine look, I’m willing to buy that. But I can’t help wondering WHY he continues to pretend. He is now a grown man. Why doesn’t he reveal to the world that he is fact his father’s son and rightful heir? As a young child perhaps he would remain silent, but he is now an adult. Why does he remain as a beleaguered servant rather than claiming his inheritance? Or at the very least setting off on his own to make a life for himself. In the classic tale, Cinderella is an unmarried woman who would have had a hard time on her own if she left home. But Cinder is a man and could surely have made a better life for himself somewhere else.
I know this is a fairy tale and as such there is a level of fancifulness to be expected. This type of story is not meant to stick closely to realism, but I still got bothered by some of these issues. In addition to Cinder posing as a woman for so long, I also wondered at his complete lack of awareness of his own sexuality. He seems to have no sense he is attracted to men. In fact, when he imagines two servants having sex and becomes aroused, he assumes it is because he is thinking of the woman in bed. Yet when the prince kisses Cinder, Cinder seems to not be the least bit surprised to find himself attracted to the prince. Not to mention that this is 16th century France and the unmarried prince is able to be kissing a woman somewhat publicly in the middle of the ball (as well as engaging in much more at the palace).
And the prince’s completely calm and blase attitude when he finds out the truth about Cinder being a man, and then the way he resolves things with his parents all just seemed unreal.
I will also step on out a limb here and say that while I am in NO WAY a history expert, the descriptions of the fashions and daily life seemed much more like a typical Regency historical than 16th century France. Just doing a quick search for 16th century French dress brought up many pictures that don’t seem to fit the styles described here. Again, I realize this is a fairy tale but I kept getting drawn out of the story by all these things that seemed hard to believe.
Despite my issues there are still many things to like here. This is my first book by Jameth and I thought her writing was smooth and her ideas creative. I just wish that there hadn’t been so many jarring issues to take away from the focus on the story. I also wish there was just a little more joy here. A fairy tale should be filled with a little magic and wonder and too much time focused on Cinder wallowing in guilt for his lies and worrying about what would happen if the prince found out. I wished for some more fun and lightness in this tale. So overall there was some enjoyable parts and definitely promise from the author, but my feelings were too mixed to give this one a full endorsement.
Cover: I like this cover, or at least I love Cinder here. Look at those lips! And I can see how with waist-length hair and a dress he could be very feminine. I’m not quite sure what the prince is doing in the background there (feeling his sexy pecs?), but not bad overall.