Author: Mercedes Lackey. 2004.
Genre: Period Fiction. Fantasy. Re-told Fairy Tale. Tarot.
Other Details: ebook. 400 pages. Unabridged Audiobook (15 hrs, 18 mins) Read by Michelle Ford.
Phoenix and Ashes is a re-telling of Cinderella set in England during the Great War. Its protagonist is Eleanor Robinson, the daughter of a wealthy man. She is preparing to sit the entrance exams for an Oxford college when her beloved father returns from a business trip with a new wife in tow. Soon after his attitude towards Eleanor changes as he favours his new wife, Alison, and her two daughters over his own child. Then he volunteers for the Army and soon after the news reaches the household that he has been killed at the Front.
Eleanor's status in the household changes as it turns out Alison is an Earth Maser, though of a dark leaning. For reasons that become clear later on she uses blood magic to bind Eleanor to the hearth, compelling her to remain within the confines of the property and to function as a servant. Alison's magic also causes Eleanor to fade from local people's minds. The only person who eventually recognises her is Reginald Fenyx, the local lord of the manor, who has been sent home after being injured when his plane crashed in France and who is also suffering from shell-shock.
Alison is plotting to marry off one of her daughters to Reggie. Of course being a Cinderella story there is also a fairy god-mother, who in this case is Sarah, the village witch. Sarah is not strong enough to challenge Alison's magic but can help Eleanor awaken to her own powers as a Fire Master.
I felt that this was the best in the series so far though unlike the others I read and listened to it in a fairly short period of time and this may have made a difference in my perception. The re-telling of Cinderella was handled well and kept many elements of the original story. I also felt that Lackey had gained a stronger sense of the period focusing on the Great War.
There were plenty of aspects of the dark magics that were unsettling. The romance between Eleanor and Reggie developed very naturally and was delightful. I also felt Lackey did well in integrating the Tarot into Eleanor;s story. I enjoyed very much and moved onto the next in the series right away.