I love fresh takes on fairy-tales. ‘Cinderella’ is a gem, and not only because of its sharp humour and swoon-worthy characters. Sage has managed to craft a story that integrates the modern world with one of magic – something that makes this book so ridiculously enjoyable.
Sage has taken a familiar universe and expanded it in a most breath-taking fashion. The world that Ella and her beautiful young King, Dane, inhabit is extraordinarily complex. The political scene and everything in it: the illegitimate heirs, relations with the Fay, wars and foreign policy, is explored in delightful detail. And yet it doesn’t dominate the story, something I viewed as a positive. In its place, the passionate, slowly developing romance between Ella and Dane takes centre stage.
What really brings this story to life are the characters. Both Ella and Dane are realistic to the point of three dimensional. They each have backstories, strong opinions and challenges to overcome. Their witty banter drove the story and their gradually developing relationship formed the backbone of the entire novel. I loved this emphasis on romance – especially as both of the central characters were likeable and gorgeous.
This book is quite short, but its originality and the way in which Sage has translated the traditional fairy-tale into the modern age makes every page a delight to read. I especially liked the take on wishes – the idea of a free wish and a ‘bond’ to an element was brilliant. The one thing that grated slightly on my nerves was the plot: the novel is based on a series of misunderstandings. The heavy use of dramatic irony gradually grew unbearable. Although this served to build tension and keep readers hooked, I found myself desperately wanting Dane to realise Ella’s true identity. However, the ending is nevertheless immensely satisfying.
‘Cinderella’ is a very enjoyable read. Sage writes exactly what she wants to write – it’s clear that she is having a lot of fun with this novel. This exuberance leaks out of the pages, dragging the reader deeper into Ella’s world. When the author is having a ball, so is the reader.
“And Then I Died” is like a Victoria Sponge Cake: sweet, smooth and layered. It combines three genres to create a fast paced romantic-mystery-thriller. Sage handles this remarkably well, despite the complexity of managing the different threads this type of form generates.
I’ll address the romantic element first. To me, the blossoming romance between Liam and Beth was the best part of the novel. I loved watching the sparks fly between them and loved the way their relationship progressed from its rocky beginnings. The reason the romance was so entertaining was because of the characters themselves. Sage has crafted them magnificently: both Liam and Beth have realistic motives and thought processes, complete with a pair of carefully thought out backstories to match. The use of an omniscient third person narrative was the cherry on the analogous Victoria Sponge, as it gave the reader the chance to learn about both Liam and Beth separately, by viewing events through their respective eyes.
The mystery-thriller parts of the novel were also vastly entertaining. Sage employs an edgy writing technique – all sharp sentences and playful verbs – so as to mirror the thoughts of her characters. This technique, coupled with a steady drip-drip of information, drives the reader on. The only concern is that in places, the novel becomes a tad too fast. Sometimes scenes abruptly end and new ones begin, with no clues as to what happened in the interval.
Another element of the novel I enjoyed was the subtle focus on family and friendship, most notably the relationship between Liam and his brother, as well as the interactions between Beth and her two best friends. Although these powerful relationships were discussed in the novel, it was not in the depth of detail I, the reader, craved. A bit more expansion on these intriguing relationships would have been wonderful, although the information provided was still more than sufficient to keep me interested.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone likes a bit of romance to go with their fast paced mystery-thriller, with a side order of heart wrenching cliff hanger to finish.