This was an interesting take on the world of Grimm’s fairytales with emphasis on the idea of grim. A young woman wakes up in a castle with no knowledge of her past or even her own name. The only thing that seems familiar is a silver thimble in the pocket of her dress. She is given the name “seamstress” and made to work with a group of other women, most of them old and frail, stitching intricate beading and lace onto beautiful dresses.
From the very beginning, Seamstress realizes that she is different. First of all, she’s a lousy seamstress; she can barely keep her stitches in a straight line, but she also immediately begins to chafe and test the limits of this monotonous life—wake up early, sew, get one hour of exercise in the open air, sew, and go to bed. There is an overseer of sorts to keep everyone in line but the real fear-inducing element is a woman known as The Godmother, who punishes those who don’t fulfill their role. However, it isn’t until a young cobbler, Shoe, comes to take measurements for a pair of glass slippers (he is confused, “Glass slippers or grass slippers?”) and uses Seamstress’s feet as the model, that Seamstress begins to think of escape. Shoe and Seamstress, who later renames herself as “Pin,” make it over the castle wall but their story is just beginning.
In Ash and Bramble, Prineas explores a lot of wonderful “what ifs.” What if the fairy godmother in Cinderella was evil and it was the witch who was good? What if the “happy ever ending” between Cinderella and the Prince is a forced performance that serves neither character?
In this reimagining, Prineas has created a strong female protagonist in “Pin” who fights against the stories being written for her, even as her memories of the past are yanked away but also raises interesting questions about narratives themselves with plots, like giant clocks, grinding characters beneath their gears. Finally, I appreciated the way Prineas didn’t explain everything at the beginning (or even in the middle) but makes the reader, like Pin and Shoe, work to figure out what’s going on.
If you’re a sucker like me for reimagining any classic story (be it the Brothers Grimm or Jane Austen), then I think you’ll enjoy this. My only quibble is the ending is not a full ending, but rather a set up for future stories.