Not really a Cinder and Ella story

Cinder and Ella, by Melissa Lemon.  

The story is of a family, with four daughters two of which are named Cinder and Ella.  The father disappears and Cinder end up working in the Kingdom Castle to help support her family and to, in some respects, get away from her sisters and mother.  When she leaves, Ella also leaves.  Ella can’t take the nightmare that she has to live with, with the remaining two sisters and her mother.  Cinda returns home to find Ella gone, and her family has forgotten that Ella really exists and they call Cinda, Cinderella merging the two daughters into one.  Cinda, in her despair, is overheard by a knight who wants to aid Cinder and find Ella.  The Prince intervenes and commands that Tanner (the knight) bring Ella back to the castle (we never really learn why).  The escape, capture, re-escape, re-capture, attempted murder of the Price, discovery of where the father is, failure of the King to intervene, almost death of both sisters, alluding to the legend of the trees… follows.

I had to check the description in NetGalley to verify what I had read and who the intended audience was.  This is what is listed next to genre:  “Children’s, Literature & Fiction, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Teens & YA”  The writing style changed so dramatically and so often that I wondered who the audience was, and it felt as if I was reading something written by more than one author.  The prose often felt like it was trying to be poetic and then it would switch into something much simpler and less elegant.  It had a sort of split personality thing going on.

Coincidentally (or at least, I assume it was coincidental), the story we are reading is not the standard Cinderella tale.  Since, there is not one but two characters referenced.  Much the same way the writing gets smushed together, leaving me wondering what I was reading, the matriarch of the family in the story smushes together Cinder and Ella and forgets that they are two different daughters.  The idea was interesting and the legend that drove some of the plot was unique.  And while I (sort of) appreciate the teaching aid the book is trying to be (as per the inclusion of “Discussion Points” after the Epilogue) the story telling got the short straw over the lesson that good should prevail and evil will never entirely go away.  But Harry Potter taught the same lessons and the story telling certainly didn’t suffer the way it did here.

An example:  the legend of the trees.  It’s mentioned early on.  And it’s mentioned again a little later.  But we never get what it is.  We merely see a few decisions made based on the legend and we see a few trees in action.  But, I still really don’t know what the legend is.  And why not?  I don’t understand why, from a story telling perspective, the author wouldn’t include it somewhere.

The narration and the mix of dialogue into paragraphs made it hard to read sometimes.  I often had to re-read text two or three times to try to figure out who was speaking.  And the dialogue itself was appropriate for a children’s book more then a YA book despite the fact that often the prose was much too advanced for the dialogue enclosed in the same paragraphs.

I didn’t understand the Price either.  His actions, or rather inactions, seemed to poke holes in the plot.  We never really get a good and believable explanation as to why he’s out to get Ella in the first place.  And why he is toying with Cinder – we never really get that answer either.  Is it just because he’s evil?  I find that hard to believe given the lengths he goes to.  But then, to just give up?  Well, that’s not very consistent with the notion of evil.

I grow more and more frustrated with every book I read lately.  None of the author’s seem to really understand the purpose of an epilogue (or prologue even though this book only has an epilogue) or how to handle it.  To have an epilogue that occurs immediately after the end… why not just have it be the last chapter?

Then, while the summary presents magic, murder, mystery, intrigue and adventure most exciting the story never really lives up to that excitement.  The story could have been exciting and filled with tension and magic but it really just fell flat.  The best part of the book was the end when we see the sort of happily ever after that comes with fairy tales.  I was disappointed though too by the lack of a few, what I think were critical elements, of the original fairy tale.  I understand it’s supposed to be a novel retelling of the story.  But really, all it felt like was a novel way to use the name Cinderella.  At least in many of the other retellings I have read (from Wicked to Sister’s Red) there are basics about the story that are still true.  That really isn’t the case here.  Having a few chores at the beginning for her family didn’t scream Cinderella.  And while she attended two balls, the wasn’t exactly a fairy godmother or wicked step-sisters.  There was no step-mother and there wasn’t really enough to make me feel like it was in any way related to the Cinderella tale.  While splitting the main protagonist into two characters would obviously necessitate certain changes in the overall story, there was nothing to tie it back to.  Instead, the story was left to stand on it own, and it didn’t have enough strength in its legs to really do that.

If you are looking for a retelling, be prepared for a reinvention, not just a reinterpretation.  And, I would say that this belongs in the independent reader (or younger), after a little editing of the more advanced prose, so that the readers will have a much much younger perspective.

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