A Dark and Spicy Cinderella Story
Rise of the Cinder Fae Book Cover Rise of the Cinder Fae
Dark Hearts Fairytale Retellings Book 1
Whitney Dean
Romantic Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling
Undying Raven Press
February 26, 2024
Ebook, Hardcover, Paperback

Born and raised in the forgotten and broken kingdom of Ashbury, Elora has spent years resenting the royals of Pumpkin Hollow, the kingdom that forced the fall of Ashbury and procured the town as its own.

Separated by a mysterious glass bridge, Ashbury is treated as the orphan kingdom, left to squander and starve with only the promise of protection from King Jasper, preventing anyone outside their realm from searching for the magic that lay within the ashy valleys and red skies.

Because twenty-five years ago, the Cinder Fae arrived. As mysterious as the magic encompassing Ashbury, the Cinder Fae bargained for their lives by promising to keep the entire realm warm with their ability to mine mountainsides into coal.

But Elora and the Cinder Fae hold a secret that could bring the end to Ashbury and the mysterious winged creatures, who, despite Elora’s best efforts to pry, refuse to share where they came from or why they can’t return.

In her desperation to prevent the downfall of her kingdom and the death of her beloved Fae, Elora drinks from an enchanted spring, convinced she can make the prince of Pumpkin Hollow fall in love with her and guarantee their safety.

But magic takes to give.

And Elora didn’t realize her heart would be the sacrifice.

A kingdom of ash. A fallen princess.

A broken prince.

Whitney Dean’s Rise of the Cinder Fae is one of the newest Cinderella retellings in the romantasy world but with a very dark twist. Elora is the fallen princess of the desolate kingdom of Ashbury. At the base of the mountains where the magical Cinder Fae work to mine coal, her world is full of heat, ash, and starvation. In an effort to help her people, she and her evil stepmother conjure a plan for her to seduce and marry the bachelor prince of Pumpkin Hollow, their reigning neighbor kingdom. Before she attends the royal ball, Elora drinks from a spring filled with fae magic, hoping to secure the confidence to lure the prince. One of the many things she did not anticipate when she stepped foot into that ballroom at Pumpkin Hollow, though, was how handsome yet infuriatingly smug the prince is. They’re drawn to one another instantly in a classic enemies-to-lovers battle of the wills.

There are a lot of things that the author does well in this book. For one, Dean sure does know how to write absolutely despicable villains. In addition to the classic evil stepmothers and stepsisters of the Cinderella tale, Dean’s version introduces King Jasper, the evil tyrant of Pumpkin Hollow. King Jasper is obsessed with pumpkins. His glass castle is filled with them. He values them over the life of anyone else — his family, his kingdom — and goes to great lengths to protect what he feels is his. He psychologically manipulates, threatens, and (when all else fails) chops off people’s heads. He is grotesque and vile and so, so perfect as a caricature of evil in a dark fairy tale.

Dean also creates a romance between Elora and Finnian (the prince of Pumpkin Hollow) that is really powerful. Dean gives a lot of attention to the relationship development between them. The banter is wicked between them at the beginning and the tension is high. When the time comes for the enemies to finally become lovers, they’re ready to give their all to one another. Dean writes some beautiful exchanges between them that include moments of vulnerability, confessions of their hearts, and commitments to honor and protect each other. If you want to collect some sigh-worthy one-liners of love for a journal or your wall or just to ponder over at night, you will find them in this book.

Every moment before this one ceases to exist. I’ve waited forever for her, yet didn’t even realize I was looking.

Plus, it is SPI-CY! Phew! Prepare yourself, reader!

In the spirit of fairy tale wishes, here is my wish list for this book:

  1. I wish there was more about the fae. They’re part of the world building and play a large role in part one of the book but, otherwise, we don’t hear as much from the fae once Elora makes it to Pumpkin Hollow. The ending provides a rationale for that, I think. More stories with the fae are on the horizon for Dean’s Dark Heart Fairytale Retellings series. This book, however, is not exactly about the Cinder Fae and their rise to power. It’s mostly about Elora and Finnian in Pumpkin Hollow.
  2. I wish this was a stronger plot-driven romance. I think it was important for the author to establish the strong romantic bond between Elora and Finnian (especially because of the ending) but I wished for more of the story to move forward. There were so many wonderful plot elements that I was itching to hear more about, especially since I knew there was time for it within the nearly 700 pages. Some books can be that long without “feeling” that long. But Rise of the Cinder Fae felt long to me. I’d recommend that the reader hang in there for the end, though, because there was a plot twist that I did not see coming.

If you love Cinderella, enemies-to-lovers, found family, and a bit of darkness in your fantasy worlds, I’d recommend giving Whitney Dean’s Rise of the Cinder Fae a try.

Catch author Whitney Dean at Fabled Fantasy Event’s Romantasy Book Con in Orlando, FL from October 3-5, 2024.