March 31, 2007
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I was looking for a fun, light read over spring break and this certainly did the trick. There are a million cultural variants and modern retellings of Cinderella but this has an intriguing twist. For any freethinker who has wondered why Cinderella was such a wimp- why did she go along with her stepmother? Why didn’t she just run away? Well Ms. Levine has an explanation: Ella was given a “gift” by a well-meaning fairy at birth: the gift of obedience. She must obey any direct order, no matter how degrading or dangerous. Though she tries to hide it, it is often difficult to disguise. After being sent to finishing school, Ella goes on a quest to break her gift/curse.
I think the best part of this book is the characters- they are vividly described, the spunky Ella, her obnoxious stepsisters- even her prince, who is just as nontraditional as she is. There is no sappy romance here- the relationship arises between two people who have much in common. The world created for the story is interesting too, the languages for gnomes, elves, and ogres that Ella learns add much to its feel. On the world-building front, my main problem is the depiction of centaurs- centaurs are as intelligent, if not more so that humans! The ones in this book are like animals.
The plot was a fun adventure and had many turns that I did not expect. I sensed that the author was trying to tell her own story while using Cinderella as a starting point, quite successfully but that some Cinderella trappings were left in at the end (the glass slipper, pumpkin being turned into a coach- which is from Disney) that were unnecessary to the plot. But I think this was one of her first novels, and she is still trying to find her voice. I look forward to reading some of her other books, such as Two Princesses of Bamarre.
I have to say, however that my favorite modern Cinderella is Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson. It’s a picture book, but it’s just perfect. I will post a review of it later.
P.S. I have not yet seen the movie version.