Selena’s mother died some time ago. She lives with her father, a nobleman of deep emotional weakness, in a grand old house with her wicked stepmother and two self-absorbed stepsisters. She is virtually enslaved to her stepmother, spending her days cleaning, sewing, running errands and copping the humiliation of a life bound with emotional and physical slavery.
Moonlight and Ashes is indeed inspired by Cinderella, but the belly of this story not only touches on fairytales, it writhes in evil magic, steeps in human deception, glimmers with enchantment, and in matters of love – transcends life itself. Set in several towns and villages of the Faustine Empire (which author Sophie Masson says is based, in part, on the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire), it follows the journey of Selena and a magical cast of characters – in search of freedom from oppression.
When Selena learns she is the last of the Moon Sister blood line – a line virtually wiped out by the all-powerful order of the Mancers, she knows she may now finally find the power to escape the misery of her life. Upon the announcement that the King of Ashberg will soon be holding a grand ball in honour of Crown Prince Leopold, Selena sets about finding her way to the ball where she meets not only the Prince but his bestie Maximilian von Gildenstein – a young man she is oddly drawn to.
The Prince, however, unnerves Selena, and there sets in motion an astonishing series of events that lead Selena to a Mancer prison, a magical escape, a kidnapping, a werewolf, a giant boatman, a magical hazel tree, a long journey, a timely meeting and a plot stuffed with sophisticated turns and twists and alleyways that gather up the reader and carry them forward to an uncertain end.
I adored the opening to this book. Masson paints a visual world so evocatively with her words, and indeed, as the book unfolds, this world becomes richer and more woven, as the plot careens towards an ending that will both surprise and delight. Faced with deceit, confusion, haunting memories – even murder – can Selena set herself and her friends free? And will she snag the prince and live happily ever after?
Moonlight and Ashes is published by Random House