This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle. It has been reposted here with permission.
With the Cinderella story told and retold as often as it is, it must be a daunting task for writers to find a new way to spin it. It’s one that’s told so often that the retellings become less about the overall story, and more about the details that will inevitably set it apart. In the case of Olivia Atwater’s Ten Thousand Stitches, its those details that make it one of the more unexpectedly romantic retellings out there.
Effie Reeves has fallen in love with Benedict Ashbrooke, the brother of the man in whose house she works as a maid. This poses just a slight problem since housemaids don’t tend to marry that far above their station.
Enter Lord Blackthorn, a faerie who is keen to learn all he can about the English, and to grow to be as virtuous as possible. He offers Effie a deal: she has 101 days to make Benedict fall in love with her and ask for her hand in marriage, with Blackthorn’s assistance. If she doesn’t manage, then she must return with him to faerie to serve as his maid.
Blackthorn is as good as his word, and really does do his best to help Effie out where he can. But his inexperience with the human realm means he usually winds up causing more harm than good.
Threaded throughout Effie and Blackthorn’s mission, much as in Atwater’s first book Half a Soul, is a particularly pointed commentary on the nature of class struggle and an individuals relative personhood. The staff of the household in which Effie works are seen as barely human by their employers: their names are interchangeable, if not outright forgotten, and the burden of work they are given is barely spared a second thought. Naturally this angers all of them, but helpless as they feel in their stations, the anger is turned inward at each other instead of outwards to the cause of their suffering.
This book might be set in the Regency era, but it’s hard to imagine Atwater didn’t have more contemporary examples and frustrations in mind, as anger so all-consuming is rarely aimed in the right direction.
Effie is rather angry herself, and she learns that heers is so powerful it affects others around her, infusing itself in the stitchwork she is so well-regarded for. But where she sees it as a burden, Blackthorn sees it for the asset it is, and never once faults her for it. Much like in Half a Soul, personality traits that would be dismissed as undesirable are instead taken as part of what makes someone who they are, and Blackthorn loves Effie no less for her fury.
Really, what makes a Cinderella story stand out to me is when Cinderella and her prince have more than 10 seconds to get to know one another. This is probably why I was rooting so hard for Effie and Blackthorn from the outset. They take the time to get to know one another, they appreciate the flaws in each other, and they genuinely seem to like each other? Wild, I know. I must just have a soft spot for a well-meaning dorky man and the angry, spitfire woman he loves who loves him back.
Ten Thousand Stitches is available now. Special thank you to Orbit Books for the advance copy for review purposes.