We all know the rags-to-riches origin story of Cinderella. The tale of how a poor, orphaned girl, forced into a life of slavery, magics her way into a royal ball and wins the heart of a charming prince. But what if that story was a lie? Living up to the triple threat title, the reimagined Cinders in D. L. Soria’s debut adult fantasy novel might be bereaved and mistreated, but she’s far from a glass-slipper wearing damsel in need of saving.
Armed with a semi-fabricated tragic backstory and some highly illegal spells, Aislinn has successfully infiltrated the royal ranks and secured her family’s fortunes with a betrothal to Prince Everett, the shrewd king’s chivalrous brother. But Aislinn’s mission doesn’t end with a ring on her finger and a happy-ever-after fit for a princess. Not only is she working as a double agent for her calculating stepmother, but she’s also a triple agent for an underground rebel faction hell-bent on taking back what was stolen from them.
Winning the prince’s heart was just the start of Aislinn’s assignment. But with her stores of magic running out and the king already suspicious of her true motives, she’ll need to rely on her wits and instincts to see her ultimate mission through. It’s further complicated by the arrival of handsome hostage prince Rance, who sees straight through the innocent and placid mask Aislinn is hiding behind. Distracted by forbidden entanglements and a devastating conflict she doesn’t fully grasp, one wrong move could prove fatal for Aislinn – and there’s more to lose than just a crown.
You’re nobody. Serephina’s words were a refrain in my head, drowning out the blissful promises that Everett gave me with every gentle smile, every enamoured glance. Only a nobody can be anything they want. And everything depended on me being a princess.”
Thief Liar Lady isn’t your typical reimagining. It doesn’t rehash Cinderella’s origin story and her whirlwind courtship with Prince Charming as he tracks her down using only an abandoned slipper. Instead it opens after Aislinn (or Ash to those who truly know her) has established a valuable foothold in the royal court. In some ways it’s a shame that her plotting to steal her way into the prince’s heart is barely covered. It means readers miss out on all the crafty machinations and emotional character building moments that show us how Aislinn’s backstory differs from that of the classic Cinders. It also means that there’s a distinct absence of wider world building, as the story rarely veers away from the claustrophobic confines of the palace. When it does, the story is all the better for it.
But what this book lacks in tangible world building, it more than makes up for in snarky, smart-mouthed characters who don’t let their tragic, cruel and abusive histories define their futures. Aislinn might have perfected the mild-mannered act she needs to maintain in order to see her mission through, but it’s the scenes where she’s out of control, when something happens that she didn’t anticipate or plan for – basically every scene she shares with Rance – that the character really shines. It’s their evolving relationship, which goes from suspicious to flirtatious to something infinitely more dangerous for them both, that keeps the dialogue sparkling and the stakes high.
Thief Liar Lady introduces us to a version of Cinderella we’ve never met before – a sharp-minded, big-hearted con artist of a character whose cheating, stealing, lying antics could easily fill another book. It’s that rare occasion when a standalone would definitely have benefitted from being a duology, giving readers more time with the brilliantly morally-grey characters (including the ‘evil’ step-sisters) and more space for the world of the book, and the political intrigue that fuels it, to expand. Yet if you’re seeking an inventive New Adult/Adult fantasy novel with fairytale vibes and a romance built on “mutually assured destruction” (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know), then this more than scratches that romantasy itch. You’ll have to read past the halfway mark to get to the really good stuff, but it’s well worth the perseverance.
Thief Liar Lady was published by Del Rey on 13 July 2023