I finished Ash & Bramble by Sarah Prineas only just this morning; I guess I was pleasantly surprised, because it was very much one of those books that you can kind of pick up and put down at random intervals and not forget the story in between. It follows the tale of Pin, a prisoner in the Godmother’s fortress, who escapes her captivity alongside another hostage named Shoe. Unfortunately, their newfound freedom isn’t exactly what it seems, and Pin must figure out how to beat the Godmother’s game and escape alive.
So this is a retelling of the traditional Cinderella, with a cast of very untraditional characters. There’s obviously Pin, the protagonist and a strong heroine in her own right. She’s very decisive, surprisingly blunt, and favors the unexpected route. Her magical item is a strange thimble that’s always been with her, and later discovered to be an heirloom from her Mother. Then there’s Shoe, another protagonist and my favorite character. I remember that when he was introduced, I was pretty disappointed with the fact that Ms. Prineas introduced the love interest so blandly– he’s a shoemaker working in the same fortress that Pin is captive in– and their “happily ever after” was going to be so predictable. I’m not saying that it wasn’t predictable, but he ended up being so much more than your typical male love interest. I like Shoe because he’s kind of an anxious disaster. He’s definitely the more moderate of the two, especially since he’s been tortured by the Godmother before. He spends most of the book worrying and fearful, and for good reason. The thing is, he doesn’t immediately give up after discovering that he may never escape from the clutches of the Godmother or the more imminent and massive Story, which is the arguable main antagonist of this novel. Instead, Shoe decides that he’s going to do as much as he can to screw up her perfect ending.
There are other characters, too, but the other VIP is Prince Cor, or Cornelius, also known as “Pin’s Handsome Prince.” He’s basically the bachelor chosen to be her happy ending, the prince who fits the shoe onto her slender foot and sweeps her away from her dreadful life and into the life of a princess. He’s more the typical YA protagonist, but it’s funny because (at least to me) he was very much a white knight. He’s inconsistent about it; there are times where he’ll let Pin run right into danger though more often than not, he insists that he be around to “protect her,” despite knowing that Pin can very easily defend herself. There are a lot of characters in this book and I’m not going to list out all of them, but they were pretty interesting. The thing I liked the most about this cast is that there were no unnecessary side characters; we didn’t have that one guy that never does anything except contribute some dialogue, and then was written off at the end. Every character that appears contributes their fair share.
So, I really liked that Pin absolutely could stand up for herself in this book. She was pretty resilient in everything, and refused to give in to Story or Godmother throughout the novel. Every time something terrible happens, she resolves to fix it. I also thought that the whole “wiping out her memory at the beginning” part was interesting, because post-wipe, we essentially read through Pin’s life from the moment she was “born” until the end. I thought that the plot was really interesting, too– the whole thing about Godmother being a pawn in the workings of the Story, which isn’t really evil but is very powerful and needs to be leveled. Ms. Prineas really makes a point that not everything is as it seems, ever; first, they think that Godmother is terrible and evil. Then they realize that it’s because that’s her role in the story– even though it’s unforgivable, it is what she has been forced into doing. And at the end, Shoe, who has suffered the most from her, is the one to forgive and take her under his wing. I thought that it was actually a fitting end, given Shoe’s personality.
I didn’t like the love triangle at all. The only okay thing about it was that it didn’t overwhelm the plot too badly, but it didn’t need to exist. It’s very hard to make love triangles ever work out well, and unfortunately, Ash & Bramble‘s love triangle failed utterly in that regard. Basically, Pin has to choose between Cor and Shoe. Shoe is content with saving the world and letting Pin choose for herself. Cor is the one that’s insistent that he and Pin love each other and will end up together. Pin, as much as I liked her, is really dumb when it comes to this. She absolutely is thinking with her ovaries and not her brain when she believes that she’s in love with Cor for like 75% of the story, which is horrible because for so much of the book she’s this really mentally and emotionally-able character. I don’t know. I personally felt like it was kind of an affront to her, but I didn’t write the character or the book so I guess it’s not really my place to say that. I do wish that her feelings had been explained a bit more. The book would probably have been ten times better if Ms. Prineas had just chosen one character for her to fall in love with and let her have an amicable relationship with the other, but no, romance “spices things up.” Please, it’s 2016: enough with the unnecessary love triangles.
I also wish that we got to know Dulcie and Precious, Pin’s stepsisters, a little more. I feel like they could have been an interesting addition to the cast of rebels. And also, that we’d gotten to know more about Pin’s mother, the elusive woman who was Godmother’s arch-nemesis and played the role of the evil fairy/wicked witch. Apparently, she went around protecting the characters from the different stories, like turning the frog prince into a frog so that he could really discover who truly loved him. I’d read a book about her.
Ash & Bramble, as a whole, was okay. It was a good one-time read, though I wouldn’t pick it up again. I might check out the companion novel, Rose & Thorn, if I see it around somewhere. I do have to commend Ms. Prineas on her characterization of Pin, who really does make an interesting protagonist, but still… I’d only recommend this book if you’re really completely out of anything to read. Also if you like fairy-tale retellings and strong female characters.