The Shadow in the Glass by J. J. A. Harwood

I re-read a beloved book, I read a book that others had loved but that I found disappointing, I wrote a post to celebrate the many books I had loved but not written about this year, and somehow that sent me crashing into a reading slump.

I have picked up and put down books that I usually would have loved, I have done other things, and it was only with this book that I read a novel from start to finish.

It is far from perfect, but it hooked me in for long enough that I had to keep reading to see what would happen. It was the right book at the right time.

If it was a recipe it might read like this:

Take  the following ingredients:

  • a large handful of Cinderella
  • a dash of Doctor Faustus
  • a teaspoon of Victorian Gothic
  • a pinch of fairy dust

Mix together thoroughly and then throw the mixture into the air and see it fly.

The story begins with a young woman creeping into a library at night, knowing that she would be dismissed on the spot if she was discovered, but quite unable to resist the lure of books.

Eleanor set down her candle and surveyed her subjects. Damp equatorial rainforests, steaming in the heat. Versailles, glittering in the dark like an earthbound star. Verona – Juliet on her balcony sighing into the darkness. It was a perfect night for poetry: she could stretch out her legs and whisper sonnets into the slow, hot silence …..

Eleanor had become the ward of the Pembroke family after he mother had died, and Mrs. Pembroke had loved and treated her as she would have loved and treated one of her daughters who had died in infancy, leaving her with a single son. The sudden death of Mrs. Pembroke shattered Eleanor’s life: her widower decided that she had no claim on him and that she must earn her living alongside her household staff, and so Eleanor was renamed Ella and became a housemaid. Mr. Pembroke also fell out with his son, Charles, who left his household; and so his father ruled alone, drinking heavily and harassing the young female servants.

It was on one of her visits to the library that Eleanor encountered a mysterious woman with dark eyes. That woman offered her seven wishes, her price being that she would take Eleanor’s soul after she made her seventh wish. Eleanor accepted eagerly, thinking that she could help the other maids who had become good friends and that she could elevate herself so that she would never be poor or have to work again; and reassuring herself that if she didn’t use her seventh wish her soul would be her own to keep.

It didn’t take Eleanor long to discover that life with wishes was not at all straightforward. Her wishes had consequences, usually unforeseen, and almost always destructive ….

Eleanor was a fascinating character to follow. She was bold and passionate in her love for her friends and her hatred for those she felt had wronged her, and she did everything within her power to achieve what she felt was right and just for herself and for them.

I saw how the possession of the wishes, her changing circumstances – and maybe the mysterious woman with dark eyes gaining a hold on her soul – changed her. That was very well done.

I couldn’t say that I liked her, but I always wanted to know what would happen next.

The plot also kept me turning the pages with frequent developments, some of which I expected and some of which took me by surprise.

In the later chapters there were developments that I felt were too improbable, and I felt the characters were sacrificed for the playing out of the plot. And I can’t help thinking that better editing, just a few small changes, and the book being either shorter or longer, could have helped with those problems.

I did appreciate the distinctiveness of the story, and I was engrossed right up to the sudden and surprising conclusion.

That is why I say that ‘The Shadow in the Glass’ is an imperfect book but it was the right book at the right time.

5 thoughts on “The Shadow in the Glass by J. J. A. Harwood

  1. I have found more and more that I am a mood reader. The book I pick up doesn’t have to be perfect but has to fit with that. I’m glad you found the perfect imperfect book at the right time.


  2. I hope this has kicked your reading slump into touch. I’m in the opposite way at the moment, reading and reading and readingandreading but I know that won’t last, either!


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