Mercedes Lackey's PHOENIX AND ASHES sets the Cinderella fairy tale in WWI England. I think it's the novelty of the setting that hooked me, the romance of a wartime era that I haven't encountered in my reading too often. Plus the story was more readable than other Lackeys I've tried.
Eleanor Robinson is a bright young Englishwoman denied a chance to study at Oxford as promised, and even to have a decent life, after her doting industrialist father suddenly marries a wicked woman and transfers all his attention and affection to her. Upon his death, Eleanor's stepmother, a powerful elemental master of earth, brutally and magically binds her to the hearth in her home in order to bilk her of her inheritance. She also makes the townspeople forget about Eleanor.
Reginald Fenyx is local gentry and someone who was a friend to Eleanor during her childhood despite their different social strata. A WWI pilot, he's also an elemental master of air. Now he's back in the countryside recuperating from an accident. He and Eleanor manage to reconnect and fall in love, except that he doesn't know how hellish her life has become.
Eleanor has to find a way to free herself, defeat her stepmother, and come into her own powers. And nab her prince, of course. All along the way, the script of a darker version of Cinderella is followed. For example, instead of glass slippers, we have a four-fingered glove, and a gruesome twist to the tale that is.
I liked the plot, and I liked all the characters. I rooted for Eleanor and couldn't wait to see the eeevvil stepmother, Alison, get her just deserts. What more can you hope for from a fairy tale retelling? (Don't answer.) This was a basic and fun story with just enough new elements to keep me happy.
Overall, I recommend PHOENIX AND ASHES. Reading it whiled away several hours enjoyably.--Preeti (28 Sep 04)