Defiant (Tales of Cinder #1)

Title: Defiant
Author: M.J. Haag
Genre: Fiction/ Romance/ Fantasy/ YA/ Fairytale
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Rating: 4/5

Favourite Quote: ‘“You have a viper’s tongue.”
“And you have the slow wit of a codfish. Lacking any decency, you’ve proven yourself to be beneath me.”
“Beneath you?”
“Please do try to keep up with this conversation. Or must I speak slower?”
Pink invaded his cheeks, and I knew I’d won this battle.
“You are most fortunate I’m a decent man, or I would see you beaten.”
I snorted. “Any decent man would introduce himself. You started this by yelling in my face and tossing accusations about.”
His nostrils flared in his anger, but then, to my surprise, he bowed low.
“The name’s Kaven,” he said.’

 

 

Eloise ‘Cinder’ and her twin sister Kellen ‘Snow’ couldn’t be any more different, Eloise with her light blonde hair, bronze skin and the inability to hide her true feelings from the world, whereas Kellen has dark ebony hair, a pale complexion and is able to hide from the world behind her serious temperament. One thing for is that they have a connected understanding that can even surprise them at times. When their mother dies after putting on a necklace sent by their father, Eloise can’t help but feel like magic was the cause of death. Magic that is forbidden. It’s dangerous to even speak of magic, but Eloise can’t rest until she knows for sure. Life for the twins suddenly gets worse when their father decides to suddenly venture into the dark forest and enrols a new guardian to take over their estate on the kings land with no warning. Whilst Maeve has been nothing but kind and caring towards them, they can’t ignore the coincidences that keep piling up since their mother died; their father venturing into the forest when they needed him the most, the obnoxious Kaven who keeps showing up out of nowhere, Maeve appearing suddenly, an old woman who speaks openly of magic, as well as their staff vanishing into thin air. Eloise and Kellen both take a different approach to figure out what is going on once and for all and how it is all connected.

‘The moment my fingers touched the cold green stone, a bolt of heat seared my fingers. I gasped and released the jewel. The colour swirled as it settled back on Mother’s skin. I stared in horror and understanding. The glint I’d witnessed when Kellen put the necklace on Mother hadn’t been a play of light. It’d been magic. A sickening feeling settled into my stomach as I removed the necklace, avoiding the stone. Stepping in front of him, I held up the necklace and struggled not to cry. 
“Why did you send this, Father? Why now?”
His gaze held mine for a long moment before going back to the trees behind me. 
“I did not send it to your mother.”‘

 

I was excited to pick up another fairytale retelling by M.J. Haag, since I fell in love with her Beastly Tales years ago. I have to say, as much as I preferred her Beauty and the Beast series, I was not disappointed in her Cinderella retelling at all, not to mention it includes a Snow White mix which makes it all the more appealing. I loved the idea that they were both sisters but experiencing a different fairytale story that continues throughout the trilogy.

The story begins as you would predict any Cinderella retelling, with a death of a parent and a new guardian suddenly stepping into a parental role. What I enjoyed the most was that you didn’t know who was playing the hero or villain role until the end of the first book. You had all the predictable fairytale characters, a handsome stranger, a magical old woman and a new ‘stepmother’ all with a new twist to each one that will make you question who to trust based on everything you knew about the original Cinderella tale. It was hard to hate their new ‘stepmother’ Maeve who only wanted to help the sisters when their father abandoned them by taking on so much as their new guardian without complaint. It was easy to suspect the old woman Rose who spoke so carefree of magic and punishment, as well as be suspicious of Kaven, a guard to the crown who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty when required and would suddenly appear out of nowhere in the woods.

Eloise was a great protagonist. Whilst all other Cinderella’s I’ve read all stand by the same morels of ‘be kind and grateful for what you have and kindness will follow’, Eloise wasn’t taking any crap from anybody. She stood up for what she thought was right, even if it meant hitting one of the local boys with a frying pan to stop them from bullying her and her sister. She was relatable and easy to sympathise with. Eloise wasn’t afraid to show emotion, especially after the death of her mother and the disappearance of her father. She cried, she expressed her anger, she was honest and that spoke so much more of her character than anything else and I loved it. Her exchanges with her twin Kellen were sweet and well written, it gave them a wonderful connection that didn’t need a lot of spoken words between them but was still able to build up their characters around each other. Their short interaction with their mother made me crave more of what their life had been like before she died, but I guess that was the point to make you emotionally invested in finding the true murderer behind the magical necklace.

‘”A fire can easily destroy what it took a lifetime to build.”
“Or the face of a shopkeeper’s son,” Kellen added. 
Mother made a pained expression. “Oh, Eloise, what did you do?”
“I tested the sturdiness of the blacksmith’s newest frying pan. I’m happy to report the smith was quite pleased with the results.”
“You hit a boy with a frying pan?”
“Well, if you must put it so brashly… yes.”
Mother stared at me for a moment before taking her tea from Kellen and drinking it down in several long swallows. She handed back the cup and closed her eyes.
“I’m ready for the full adventurous tale, my darlings.”
Kellen and I shared a smile and launched into a recounting of our market visit from the day before.’ 

I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Eloise and Kaven, no matter what he did whether it was watching her struggle in the mud, intimidating her until she physically defended herself or throwing her off her horse, you knew a part of him could be trusted since he didn’t exactly drag her off into the woods as he continuously found her alone but another part questioned everything about him. I loved how they didn’t hold back from their expressive comebacks, insulting or physical manhandling to prove a point. It gave them both a refreshing moment of freedom they craved more than they realised, even if they both suspected each other of something else. It wasn’t exactly clear who he was or his role since he was always alone in the woods wearing a royal crest but at this point of the story it didn’t matter, he made the story interesting and brought a spark to the tale before Cinderella even became Cinderella.

‘”Are you hurt?” he asked. 
Turning to him with an incredulous gaze, I punched him square in the nose. 
“Of course I’m hurt, you ass! You knocked me off my damn horse!” 
He pinched the bridge of his nose, sniffed and blinked at me. 
“You have no idea how grateful I am that you do not hit as hard as you knee.”
“Please, allow me to try once more.”‘

The story was unique, interesting and honestly I struggled to put it down. I needed to see more of the banter between Kaven and Eloise, I wanted to see more of the sisterly connection and how they both saw their situation through different eyes, even if the book was entirely in Eloise’s perspective.
Whilst not much actually happened in this first book with the twins suspecting magic and a lot of walking around trying to come up with answers to the mystery that surrounds them, you come to see why it’s a Cinderella retelling at the very end which will only have you wanting more. I have read the full trilogy and I can assure you it it gets dark, gruesome, and you will struggle to see how it could ever have a happy ending. It will be well worth the time you invest in this trilogy so pick up the next Tales of Cinder book Disdain to find out what happens next!

 

 


Goodreads Review:

Magic can have deadly consequences.
When the sudden and suspicious death of Eloise’s mother points to forbidden magic, Eloise is determined to bring her mother’s murderer to justice. She will stop at nothing to find the killer…even if the clues lead right to the palace gates and the prince’s manservant, Kaven. He is irrational, volatile, and prone to knocking women off horses. Given his personality, it should be easy to find the proof she needs to place him in irons.
However, when dark magic is used, nothing is as simple as it seems, and Eloise is about to learn that nightmares often hide behind fairy tale lives.

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Hey! I'm Gemma :) I moved to Japan with my husband and cat three years ago which has been one big adventure. The only downside (besides missing my family and dairymilk) is that I've moved to a country where English bookshops are limited, plus the idea of transporting so many books back home sounds dreadfully expensive. I've grown to love my Kindle which is why I'm fixated on ebooks. It connects nicely to my goodreads and netgalley account also which means I'm always adding more to my never ending list of books. I read fiction and love all things fantasy, YA, historical fiction and classics. Add a bit of mystery and I'll be hooked!

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