I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Shadow in the Glass by J. J. A. Harwood. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Shadow in the Glass, Eleanor (AKA Ella) was once the ward of a wealthy family, excited to be raised as a lady. But when the woman of the house dies, her husband forces Eleanor to become a servant in that very house. As she grows older, she realizes that he is harassing other maids, and she fears for her future. One night, as she pursues a book, she encounters a mysterious fairy godmother, who grants her wishes to help change her life. But the more Eleanor chooses to act, the more she realizes that this magic has dire consequences—and she isn’t sure she can truly justify paying this price.
This book, with its Faustian bargain, reminds me a lot of The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s different from that masterpiece, however, with its smoky Victorian setting and rich fairytale elements, and manages to be a strong piece of writing on its own.
Eleanor is a really intriguing protagonist. She’s somehow both very selfish and very caring, both manipulative and gullible, both cunning and naive. I didn’t agree with her choices all the time, and her motives often come across as a little twisted, but I still had to see if she would prevail. There’s something about stories that feature revenge or bad deeds that you kind of want to see through, like The Count of Monte Cristo. I wanted to see if and how Eleanor manages to carve out the affluent, luxurious life for herself that she wants, and to witness how far she’d go to get it. And while Eleanor isn’t a saint, the obstacles she faces are still darker.
A lot of this novel deals with the question of whether the ends justify the means, especially when someone is trying to accomplish good. A lot of Eleanor’s motivation, other than her desire for enough money to prosper, is to help her fellow maids who have been harmed by her guardian’s lecherous attentions. There are complex moral questions at play, and it’s quite interesting.
Much of the conflict stems from Eleanor and other women in her world lacking any real autonomy. From money to education to job opportunities, Eleanor and her friends’ options are rarely their own, and this makes their situations all the more sympathetic. I quite like the other maids, Aoife and Daisy and Leah; they all have solid personalities and voices of their own.
The love story is well-written as well, moving at an excellent pace through slowly building attraction to secret adoration. I was invested in it, and as so much of Eleanor’s decision-making ties in with the romance, it was a good thing I was. Her love interest was sweet and earnest, and I enjoyed the scenes with him.
In the end, The Shadow in the Glass is an excellent novel. It’s dark and magical and compelling, with a strong and complex protagonist. The themes are thought-provoking, and the ending of the book was actually pretty thrilling. When it comes to Faustian-inspired fantasy, I still prefer Addie LaRue, but this was nonetheless a wonderful read for me!
Overall rating: 8.6/10
Content note: There are some discussions of sexual harassment and rape, as well as a (not graphic) scene where a character has a miscarriage.
The Shadow in the Glass is published as of today, May 4th, 2021!