Hello, dear Catholicmom readers! You might know me as one of the Meatless Friday chefs here at CatholicMom.com, but I’m also a novelist. I recently released my second book, Cinder Allia, which came into being when I asked myself the question, “What if the happy ending dies before the fairy tale even begins?”
She should have known. She should have heard the wind shrieking through the hazel boughs above her mother’s grave, heavy with new-born sorrow. But the maiden had cried the same tears too long to believe that any part of her heart remained unbroken.
A cloud cast a shadow across the sunny sky, a puff of smoke the shape of a cocoon. Its misty threads tore as if along a seam, pushed open by a pair of silver-bright wings. The glittering creature fluttered toward the maiden, raining tears. She crossed herself and gripped the soft grass upon the grave.
“Allia,” the creature breathed, its timbre of birdsong and silver bells dampened by its grief. “Weep with me. Your prince is dead.”
“My prince? What prince would ever deign to call himself mine?” She tugged without thinking at the skirt of her rough gray kirtle. She had washed it just that morning in the stream. It clung to her, still stained with ash.
The creature placed its tiny golden hands upon the maiden’s eyes. “The one whose body you see lying with the arrow through his breast.”
The maiden gasped as images of battlefields assailed her, a burnished breastplate stained with blood, a dark and handsome face waxing slowly pale. “I flew to stop it,” the creature sighed, “but I had never been to war. Allia, I caught the wrong arrow.”
“Enough!” She staggered backward into the sunlight, though she knew that without that fallen soldier’s smile, even the sunlight would darken.
“Forgive me.” Then the creature sang in a language Allia had never heard. The grass and the grave and the hazel boughs returned.
The maiden pleaded, “Let me alone, I beg of you. Perhaps it’s true he was my prince, but I was only his subject.”
“You should have been more.” Then the fairy told the story the way it has been told at every child’s cradle-side since fairies first appeared. The maiden recognized with wonder the beginning of the tale; she had long ago succumbed to her stepmother’s cruelty. For eight years, the nobleman’s daughter had scoured away happiness until her bare soul glistened, as wretchedly clean as the hearth on which she slept. Allia de Camesbry had slowly shriveled into Cinder Allia, silent and forgotten like the dust.
Now her fairy godmother had arrived. But, alas, the prince was dead.
As a Catholic writer, I struggled a lot with this premise. I couldn’t seem to stop myself from writing the story, but I wondered, is it really Catholic? Isn’t it a kind of secular humanist narrative, that on page one I killed the prince and rendered the fairy fallible, stripping the story of both of its savior figures and leaving the heroine to work out her salvation for herself? While I struggled to build the world and get to know the characters, I also struggled with the underlying message—how could I write this and be true to my own beliefs?—until one day I realized, “Oh. The prince’s death . . . that’s the Fall.”
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Cinder Allia is the story of Cinderella, but reenacted in a world like ours, where even fairy tales are tainted by the stain of original sin. Like ours, it is a world where people must constantly choose between good and evil, and bear the consequences of both.
Allia tightened her grip on the sword. Her scabbed palms burned with the wounds of hate while her heart drummed against the cross-shaped scar of love. No matter which she chose, it would leave her bleeding.
Oh, yes—the sword. I never write a book with just one single premise. Cinder Allia is also my attempt to reimagine Cinderella as a kind of Joan of Arc. So, if you usually find Cinderella stories just a tad too sappy, with a heroine who’s a little too passive, don’t worry. There’s a war going on, and Allia will have to fight it.
About the book: Cinder Allia has spent eight years living under her stepmother’s brutal thumb, wrongly punished for having caused her mother’s death. She lives for the day when the prince will grant her justice; but her fairy godmother shatters her hope with the news that the prince has died in battle. Allia escapes in search of her own happy ending, but her journey draws her into the turbulent waters of war and politics in a kingdom where the prince’s death has left chaos and division. Cinder Allia turns a traditional fairy tale upside down and weaves it into an epic filled with espionage, treason, magic, and romance. What happens when the damsel in distress must save not only herself, but her kingdom? What price is she willing to pay for justice? And can a woman who has lost her prince ever find true love? Surrounded by a cast that includes gallant knights, turncoat revolutionaries, a crippled prince who lives in hiding, a priest who is also a spy, and the man whose love Allia longs for most—her father—Cinder Allia is an unforgettable story about hope, courage, and the healing power of pain.
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Copyright 2017 Karen Ullo
About the Author
Karen Ullo is the author of two award-winning novels, Jennifer the Damned and Cinder Allia. She is one of the founding editors of Chrism Press, which is dedicated to publishing Catholic and Orthodox fiction, and the former managing editor of the Catholic literary journal Dappled Things. She’s also a wife and mother of two. Find out more at KarenUllo.com.