Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cinderella Wrap Up

Cinderella Wrap-Up

As ubiquitous as the fairy tale of Cinderella is in cultures around the world, it is easily as ubiquitous in fairy tale novelizations. There have been months in the past where the struggle was finding enough novels to fill a full month. Here, the struggle lay in narrowing down the choice (in other words, the “Other Notable Novels” section is going to be quite full this month).

And yet, for all that that is true, almost every novelization I could have read and reviewed pulls from Perrault’s Cinderella. There are exceptions, of course. Donna Jo Napoli has a wonderful one that uses the Chinese Cinderella as its basis, and Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters Cinderella retelling uses more of Grimm’s, but for the most part, authors tend to latch onto Perrault’s.

And that got me thinking — why? Why fixate on arguably the weakest version of Cinderella out there, a story with a heroine so helpless she can’t even voice her own wishes? And then it occurred to me (and hang onto your hats, folks. I’m about to go Super Meta):

Maybe authors latch onto Perrault’s Cinderella because she’s the one most in need of rescue. Not from an evil curse, not from enforced servitude, but from the very confines of her own story told by an incredibly sexist narrator (appreciate as much as you want the work that Perrault did in terms of collecting and reproducing oral tradition tales in France; I certainly do. But that appreciation aside, you can’t deny that he was sexist and chauvinistic, and the stories he chose to collect and the way he chose to tell them reflect this).

I think authors tend to hone in on Perrault’s Cinderella because they want so badly to rescue Perrault’s Cinderella, above and beyond the other Cinderellas out there. Because Grimm’s made her own way to the ball. Chinese, Russian, Native American Cinderellas took charge of their own destinies. And so many other Cinderella figures out there – even if they couldn’t go after what they wanted, they could at least articulate it. But Perrault’s is so terribly helpless, you can’t help but want to give her a stronger personality and some small measure of control.

Because that’s what I noticed this month. Without exception, every Cinderella from every novelization was far less passive, far more proactive, far less willing to sit around and wait for her life to improve. Across the board, we got Cinderellas with gumption and fire and stubbornness, far more than Perrault’s ever showed.

I also noticed that all five of these novels offered Cinderella friends, another thing missing from Perrault’s tale. Ella from Just Ella had Jed and Mary; Poppy had Christian and Marianne and Dickon; Cinder had Peony and her android and Kai; Cindy had Malcolm and India; and Ella from Ella Enchanted had Char and Areida and Mandy. None of our Cinderellas were left alone, and in four out of five cases, they all met and became friends with the prince long before the ball, and in the one instance they didn’t, he turned out to be an idiot.

So, we give her passion, and we give her friends, and I think that’s significant. Every novel we read this month stressed the importance of those two things above and beyond the importance of romance, and it’s hard not to be a fan of that.

So. Rankings.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine and Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George both come Highly Recommended and remain some of my favorite novel adaptations.

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix and Cinder by Marissa Meyer are both Recommended for sure.

Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer was pretty disappointing, and I wouldn’t want anyone to go out of their way to read it.

Other Notable Novels: Tons. Seriously, guys, there are so many.

Bound by Donna Jo Napoli, which tells the tale of the Chinese Cinderella.
Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey, which is one of my favorite of her Elemental Masters series.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire, which I haven’t read for a while but remember being blown away by.
Before Midnight by Cameron Dokey, which has a fantastic take on Cinderella’s father.
I Was a Rat by Philip Pullman, which examines the story from the perspective of one of the rats turned into a footman, and is tons of fun.

And I’m gonna go ahead and throw out The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C Hines and The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, both of which have Cinderella as a character combined with other fairy tale characters in truly wonderful ways.

Also, someone please read Cinderella: Ninja Warrior for me? My copy had to go back to the library before I could read it, and I just want to know!

There are so many others, guys. Cinderella is everywhere! But the month is up, and we have to move on.

April’s fairy tale is Little Red Riding Hood!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Target Audience: Middle Grade

Summary: At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent young fairy named Lucinda, who bestows on her the "gift" of obedience. Anything anyone tells her to do, Ella must obey. Another girl might have been cowed by this affliction, but not feisty Ella: "Instead of making me docile, Lucinda's curse made a rebel of me. Or perhaps I was that way naturally." When her beloved mother dies, leaving her in the care of a mostly absent and avaricious father, and later, a loathsome stepmother and two treacherous stepsisters, Ella's life and well-being seem to be in grave peril. But her intelligence and saucy nature keep her in good stead as she sets out on a quest for freedom and self-discovery as she tries to track down Lucinda to undo the curse, fending off ogres, befriending elves, and falling in love with a prince along the way.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So, disclaimer right at the start, I am fully aware that I view this novel through something of a nostalgia filter because this was the first fairy tale adaptation that I ever remember reading, and I adored it when I was younger, and it remains one of my favorite novels of all time ever, and it’s what got me into fairy tale novelizations in the first place. Rereading it for this review, I did my best to as objective as possible, but basically, this book is amazing and nothing and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

So, Ella is a girl cursed with obedience. It wasn’t intended as a curse initially; it was intended to be a gift, a blessing, from a well-meaning but significantly misguided fairy named Lucinda. But it became a curse very quickly because anything Ella is told to do, she must do, whether it’s to finish her dinner, to stop crying, or to cook herself in a stewpot. She has no control and no choice. If she tries to delay or disobey, the curse causes her incredible pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, etc. Ella must be obedient.

She hates it, and I love how feisty this girl is, how strong in mind and spirit, and I love that a gift designed to make her pliable and easy to manage has, in fact, done just the opposite – it’s made her stubborn and rebellious and clever.

Because Ella has found little ways around the curse, learning how to obey the orders she’s given to the letter but not the spirit, wasting the time of the person giving the order and forcing them to be more and more specific.

Not that many people are aware of the curse; in fact, hardly anyone is. Ella’s mother knows, and Ella’s cook/fairy godmother Mandy. But the curse has been kept secret from everyone else, both because Ella sure doesn’t want anyone else knowing, and because Ella’s mother gave her a rare command not to tell anyone.

But while this one aspect of her life sucks, in general, Ella’s life and childhood don’t. Her father, a difficult and cold-hearted man, travels as a trader and is hardly ever home. Ella’s mother adores her and raises her with love and laughter, and Mandy is stern but obviously cares for Ella as well, and so things aren’t too bad.

Until Ella’s mother dies. And her father returns home to find that his daughter is clumsy and awkward and too tall and doesn’t know how to do anything that he deems valuable. She can’t dance or sing or embroider, she isn’t at home in fancy clothing or in a fine setting. She breaks things and is too stubborn for her own good. So when he hears at his wife’s funeral of a finishing school that a woman called Dame Olga is sending her two daughters to, he packs Ella up and sends her along as well. Ella is ordered to go, and so, there is nothing she can do.

The only people upset about this development (apart from Ella) are Mandy and the prince, Char. Ella met Char at her mother’s funeral, and he was kind and gracious toward her as no one else was that day.  And he knew the real version of her mother, the fun-loving woman who was always full of laughter, not the dutiful wife and lady that everyone else spoke of. Ella and Char struck up a friendship that day, and Char is indignant on Ella’s behalf because, as he says, she doesn’t need to be finished – she’s fine the way she is!

But despite having the prince in her camp, Ella is off to finishing school, where she is inundated and overwhelmed with orders – to correct her posture, to learn to sew, to dance gracefully, to eat properly, the curse forces her bit by bit to become “finished,” and Ella hates every minute of it, except for the time she spends with Arieda, the one girl she becomes friends with.

Hattie, daughter of Dame Olga and Ella’s future stepsister (spoilers) discovers Ella’s curse, sort of. She works out that Ella has to do whatever she’s told, though she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t need to, though, not to thoroughly order Ella about. And when Hattie orders Ella to stop being friends with Arieda, Ella has had enough. Rather than have to obey the order, she runs away in the middle of the night, making up her mind to track down Lucinda, the fairy who cursed her, and try and convince her to take the curse away.

She learns that Lucinda will be at a giant’s wedding, so she sets out in that direction. Along the way, she’s captured by ogres, the kingdom’s most dangerous enemy because they have the power of persuasion, not that they need it with Ella. But one of Ella’s gifts is a way with languages, and she manages to turn their technique against them long enough for help to arrive in the form of Char and his knights. Char and Ella rekindle their friendship, and he sees her safely delivered to the giant’s wedding.

At the wedding, Ella manages to track down Lucinda and beg for the gift of obedience to be taken away, but no dice. Lucinda tells Ella to be happy with her gift, and because it’s an order, Ella has to obey, an order that turns her into a puppet and really shows just how insidious a gift this can be – with the right command, your thoughts and emotions aren’t even your own, which is one of the most horrifying aspects to me.

Mandy is able to reverse this command once Ella makes it home, but there are bigger problems up ahead. Ella’s father has lost his fortune, and his solution is for Ella to marry a rich man. When that falls through, because he can’t find one rich enough, Sir Peter is left with no other choice than to find a rich lady for him to marry.

Reenter Dame Olga and her horrible daughters. Sir Peter lies to Dame Olga about his own fortune, leading her to believe that he’s still as rich as he ever was – at least until after they’re married. Ella can’t stand the proceedings or Hattie and Olive, so she slips away from the wedding, and ends up spending an afternoon with Char, exploring the old castle. They find a pair of fairy-made glass slippers on their explorations that fit Ella perfectly (Ella has a drop of fairy blood in her, which means she will always have the abnormally small feet of fairies), and Char gives them to her as a gift.

I love the friendship Levine builds between these two because, as you all should know by now, I love it when romance in these stories is built on more than just “love at first sight.” I love when it has a firm base, and this one does. Char tells Ella that he’s leaving in a few days to spend a year in a neighboring kingdom, and that he wants to write to her while he’s gone. Then he convinces her to slide down the stair bannister, which is, of course, when her new stepfamily finds them.

Hattie is furious that Ella should be so close with the prince, and so, when he calls on Ella the next two days, Hattie orders Ella to stay in her room, so Ella doesn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Char before he leaves, and they part on uncertain footing. Luckily, Hattie doesn’t know that they’re writing letters, and as they write back and forth, their friendship deepens, and Ella falls more and more in love.

It’s about the only thing life has going for her. Dame Olga discovered that her new husband is basically broke, and while he is able to travel and escape her, Ella has no such respite. She’s forced to be a servant in her own home because Dame Olga refuses to treat her as a lady, given that she has no wealth. So Mandy takes her in as a scullery maid, and while Ella’s life isn’t what she would wish, it could be worse.

And then Char confesses his love to her in a letter. And for one shining night, she’s over the moon, thinking that this is her way out. She marries the prince, and he takes her away from Hattie and Olive and Dame Olga, and she spends the rest of her life with the man that she loves.

But in the light of day, she knows she can’t accept Char. Her curse makes it impossible; it would endanger him in the worst way. She could be ordered to spy, to betray, to kill him. And she can’t tell him about the curse – her mother forbade it. So the only thing to do is to break his heart.

This moment is beautiful and heart-breaking. Because yes, you can argue that there were other options – tell him she doesn’t love him but wants to still be friends, for instance – but Ella knows that even as friends, she’s a danger to Char. Hell, she’s a danger to him just by existing, but even more so if she’s close to him in any degree. And there’s nothing she could tell him that would convince him to break off their friendship.

So she does the only thing she can. She breaks his heart so thoroughly that he’ll hate her, playing on his hatred of being made to look like a fool, because that’s the only way he’ll eventually move on. She writes as her stepsister Hattie, telling him that Ella eloped with an old rich man, that Ella used to read Char’s letters aloud to the family and was only ever taking advantage of Char’s attentions. Then she writes a short letter in her own voice, to drive it all home.

It’s the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, and Mandy resolves to do something about it. So summons Lucinda and tricks her into agreeing to try out her so-called “wonderful” gifts, to see if they’re really so grand. It gives Ella hope that, if she realizes how awful it is to have to be obedient all the time, Lucinda will take the gift away, since she remains the only one who can.

And while Mandy’s plan works, it works a little too well for Ella, because Lucinda has sworn off all big magic, and while she now knows everything Ella has gone through, she won’t take the risk of removing the curse.

So now we have Ella, still cursed, all hope gone, a servant in her own home, the man she loves with all her heart hating her. She’s at her lowest point. And that’s when Char’s return is announced, along with a three-day festival being thrown by the king.

Ella is determined to go, both to spite her step-family and to see Char one last time. She resolves not to approach him in any way, just to see him from afar, but she needs that closure. She and Mandy make three gowns and a mask in secret, but on the night of the first ball, it’s raining, which means Ella can’t walk to the palace as was her plan. In a moment of desperation, she calls on Lucinda, who agrees to help as long as it’s with small magic – transforming objects rather than creating new ones, and the transformations will be temporary, disappearing by midnight. So Ella ties on her mask, climbs into the pumpkin-turned-coach, and heads to the ball.

She sees Char, and watches him, but it isn’t enough, and so, breaking her resolve, she jumps into the receiving line. She changes the pitch of her voice and calls herself Lela (. . . really? Sweetie, I don’t think you’re trying very hard, here), and is determined to be just like the other girls, sweet and polite, but she can’t stand the idea of Char being bored with her, finding another girl to dance with, falling in love with someone else right in front of her eyes, and so she makes one comment like her true self, and it makes him laugh, and he asks her to dance.

She comes the next night, and he spends as much of it with her as he can. Hattie is not pleased, and she takes “Lela” aside to tell her that she and Char are secretly engaged, and that she must ask to see “Lela’s” face behind the mask, to protect her. Because she didn’t order it, Ella can refuse, so Hattie tries to plant doubt in Char’s mind, but no dice.

Char asks “Lela” to stay longer the third night, to hear him sing, and Ella resolves to be able to. She foregoes Lucinda’s magic that night so she can stay past midnight, and the moment she enters the ballroom, Char is at her side, and it’s clear he doesn’t intend to leave it.

But my favorite moment of this portion of the novel is when Char takes Ella aside and confesses that he might have been misleading her, spending so much time with her. He admits that the purpose of the balls is to find him a wife, but that he has no intention of marrying, and he hopes she isn’t disappointed to learn that. I love this, because it’s another example of a character taking charge of his own destiny. The balls were the king’s idea; Char doesn’t appreciate being forced into a marriage without being consulted about it, so he’ll go along with the balls, but he’s not going to choose a bride. It’s not a vow I think he can realistically keep – the need for heirs and all – but I appreciate that in this moment, that’s his move.

He tells Lela that even though love is supposed to be forever, friendship can be, too, and then he starts to ask a question, but before he can get it out, Hattie dances by and snatches off Ella’s mask. Char recognizes her immediately, of course, as does Hattie, and that’s why Ella runs. Not because it’s midnight, not because of any magic, but because she realizes how foolish she’s been, so desperate for his voice and his touch that she forgot why she broke his heart in the first place.

She runs home, losing a shoe along the way, but she can’t stop. She has to take Mandy and escape someplace where Char can’t find her, can’t come after her, can’t be put in danger by her.

But Char comes faster than Ella thought he would, and he knows where she lives. Before Ella and Mandy can slip away, the entire household is forced to assemble. Ella tries so hard to disguise herself, but she’s pulled out anyway, and it’s clear that Char recognizes her immediately. But Ella (and Hattie) denies who she is, and so Char pulls out the slipper, the magic fairy slipper they found in the palace that day, the one he gave to Ella. He knows it’s hers. He tells her that it will fit Ella and Ella alone.

Hattie tries to claim the slipper as hers, but it’s fairy-made, for fairy-feet, so it doesn’t fit her or Olive. Char draws Ella to a chair and slips it on, but he does so privately, not making a show of it, and he sees how utterly terrified she is when it fits, this proof of who she is. And so, even though he doesn’t understand it, he tells her, in a whisper, “You needn’t be Ella if you don’t want to be,” and . . . guys, it’s such a wonderful, beautiful moment. Char was my first literary crush, and this scene is why.

Because he’ll let her go if she tells him to. He doesn’t understand why, doesn’t know why she lied or why his presence here inspires so much fear, but if she tells him to go, he will. He figures out that her letter was a trick, and she confirms it. He asks if she loves him, he needs that from her, and she confesses that she does. And he says, “Then marry me!”

It’s a command, though Char never intended it as one. But it is a command, and Ella must be obedient. Hattie commands her not to marry the prince, but Dame Olga steps in and says with a princess for a stepsister, she’ll have everything she wants, and Ella knows it’s begun, what she was so afraid of, the reason why she broke Char’s heart in the first place.

She’s been ordered to say yes, to accept his proposal, to marry him. But she can’t. She can’t put him in that danger, she can’t let herself be used against him. She has to say no.

This two-page scene is one of my favorite things that’s ever been written, guys, because it is so powerfully and effectively done, Ella’s inner turmoil, her struggle to fight against the curse, to save Char by breaking it, by finding the strength to refuse him. And that need, that love, is strong enough when nothing else has been. It isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing Ella has ever done, but she is finally able to yell, “No!” and refuse to marry Char.

Ella is jubilant, refusing him over and over again, and Char is confused, and it’s just . . . lovely. It’s lovely, and I love it. He asks why she won’t marry him if she loves him, making it clear that she doesn’t have to, that she can say no, he’s just confused, and she tells him that she’s cursed, and he wouldn’t be safe if he married her.

And then she realizes that she shouldn’t be able to tell him that. And she thinks back on all the commands she has not followed in the last minute or so, and Mandy confirms what she doesn’t dare believe – the curse is broken. And Ella kneels before Char and asks him to marry her. And happily ever after.

God, I love this book. I could rhapsodize all day, but this review is already over a week late, so I’m just gonna take us to the checklist.

Give Cinderella control of her own destiny? You wouldn’t think so, would you, with a main character cursed into obedience? And yet, Ella takes charge of her own story undeniably. I love that forcing her to be obedient to every command has actually made her incredibly strong-willed and stubborn, determined to fight against a world constantly telling her what to do. I love that the secret to breaking the curse lies is loving Char enough to refuse him. I love that, in the end, Ella’s curse isn’t taken away by Lucinda or removed by Mandy or broken with a kiss from Char – she breaks it herself. She rescues herself. I love it, and I love her.

Enhance the role of the prince? Every time I read this book, I fall in love with Char all over again. He’s not perfect, but he is good, through and through, right down to his core. He is pure-hearted and a good friend, and he loves Ella enough to trust her, to let her go if that’s what she needs. I love the relationship built up between these two throughout the novel, that while Char did fall in love with Ella, what he was really looking for most was a friend, someone he could talk to, and he fell in love with Ella because she was able to be that for him, first and foremost.

Address the plot transgressions? Let’s see.

Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly?  Because he’s kind of a horrible human being, and I love it. I love that Levine had the guts to characterize the father in this way. He is cold-hearted and closed-off and he doesn’t really care about his daughter. His business has always been more important to him.

Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly?  Because she can’t. She’s cursed to obey, and she’s been ordered to be a servant. She fights against it in all the ways that she can, but she can’t actually leave.

Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being? The FG’s role is split between Mandy and Lucinda, and Mandy has always been there, protecting Ella, watching over her, keeping her safe, acting as you would expect a FG to act.

Anybody going to question glass slippers? They’re fairy-made to bend and give without breaking.

Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts? They weren’t given to her by Lucinda; she got them earlier from the prince.

Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will? Because Ella has super tiny feet, thanks to her fairy blood. But it’s less about the show fitting and more about Char knowing that these slippers specifically are Ella’s, because he gave them to her.

This book is everything a Cinderella adaptation should be. Nostalgia goggles or not, this remains one of my favorite books of all time, and nothing will convince me otherwise.

Expect the Cinderella Wrap-Up later today. Thanks for your patience!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Guest Post: Disney's Cinderella (from Matthew)

Disney’s Cinderella

or “Why This Movie Really Isn’t As Bad As You Think It Is” - by Matt Guion

Seriously, people. It’s not.

Okay, to be fair, Disney’s Cinderella is one of the earliest movies I remember watching. My family didn’t get a VCR until I was about three, and we only had a handful of VHS home movies, of which Cinderella was one, and one that I watched a lot. So yeah, there’s a fair amount of nostalgia attached with this film. But the same can also be said for Shirley Temple’s The Little Princess, and I have no qualms whatsoever about ripping that movie to shreds. So, that being said . . .

Cinderella came after something of a dry spell for Disney animation, partly due to the war and a reliance on “package films,” or movies that told more than one story. Cinderella was the first full length animated feature since Bambi to tell one story, and only the second full length animated feature to be based on a faerie tale. And like Snow White, it was a big hit, and effective started Disney’s classic era, which would sustain them for much of the next couple decades.

This time, Disney tackled a story that was well-known and universal, the classic rags to riches story, and while they definitely put the Disney spin on it, they also stayed pretty true to the source material. But what I have found, after watching it again, is that the things about this movie that I’m not crazy about are the things from the original story that they stayed true to. Pretty much everything Disney DID add their touch to, I liked better.

So, starting from the beginning: the movie opens, just as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, with the storybook exposition, where a narrator gives us the beginning of the story. Cinderella -- who, incidentally, has that name with no sort of explanation behind it -- is the daughter of a wealthy widower, who marries Lady Tremaine believing that Cinderella needs a mother. Lady Tremaine has two daughters of her own, Anastasia and Druzella, both of whom are generally spiteful and mean-tempered. Then, Cinderella’s father dies (thus, taking care of that little problem from the story) leaving Cinderella at the mercy of her stepfamily, who now reveal their true colors and treat Cinderella as little more than a servant.

Which brings us to our first “issue” that people cite with this story. Why doesn’t Cinderella just leave, if her family is treating her so badly? Well, let me answer your question with a question: where would she go? It’s indicated that she’s still a child when her father dies, and thus, her stepmother is her legal guardian. When she is old enough to take her life into her own hands, as it were, she’s no longer the daughter of an aristocrat. She’s a commoner, a servant. Her stepmother has basically stripped away whatever legal claim she might have had to her father’s estate. And awful as Lady Tremaine is, she’s still giving Cinderella a place to stay. Yeah, Cinderella has to work, but she has a home, she has food on her plate, and a roof over her head. She’s not going to give that up lightly. Also, when you’ve been raised from childhood to be a servant to your stepmother, you kind of grow up with that inferior mindset into adulthood. Also, legality aside, I do think that Cinderella still sees the place as her father’s house. We’re told that it’s falling into disrepair, because Lady Tremaine cares little for it, and Cinderella has a vested interested in staying.

So for better or worse, Cinderella stays and allows herself to be treated as a servant. But it’s worth noting that this Cinderella is considerably more interesting than her Perrault counterpart, as well as more interesting than the other Disney princesses from this time before being a Disney princess was even a thing. She actually has a very enjoyable personality. Yes, she’s optimistic and kind against all odds, but she can also be vaguely sarcastic, as though she’s on the very edge of talking back at times. Unlike Snow White, who just seemed oblivious, and Aurora, who actually was oblivious, Cinderella seems fully aware that her situation pretty well sucks, but she’s trying to make the best of it that she possibly can. I wouldn’t call her content with her situation. More like resigned. Her attitude seems to be, “I may not like the lot life has dealt me, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it, so I may as well try to make the best of it.” And unlike Perrault’s Cinderella, who isn’t even able to make her wish and has to have the Fairy Godmother do even that for her, this one does actually try to make her life suck less. It just doesn’t seem to work. She befriends a group of mice, and one of them accidentally gets into trouble. She sings while she works, and Lucifer the Worst Little Demon Cat Ever messes up the floor she was cleaning. She finds a dress to wear to the ball, and . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.

As I said, Cinderella--being a Disney princess--has animal friends. Birds, who don’t talk, and mice, who sadly do. (And if befriending mice in your house doesn’t force you take a step back and reexamine your life situation, then I don’t know what will.) And this is the one thing Disney did that I’m NOT wild about: the mice. And really, it’s not even the mice themselves. It’s their voices. The mice themselves actually have very enjoyable personalities, with Jaq and Gus taking on an Abbott and Costello style friendship. In a way, this movie is kind of their perspective of the story. Cinderella from the point of view of the mice. I mean, yeah, it’s mostly a bunch of filler material of Tom and Jerry-style antics with Lucifer, but they’re still enjoyable to watch.

So, the plot properly gets going when Cinderella answers the door to a royal official with an invitation to the ball, which she promptly takes up to her stepfamily. And again, to her credit, unlike Perrault’s Cinderella, this Cinderella does actually assert herself here. While her stepsisters are laughing at the idea of her going to the ball, Cinderella points out that EVERY eligible maiden is to attend, and that includes her. Lady Tremaine reluctantly agrees on the condition that she finish her work AND find something to wear . . . which she will, of course, make impossible by keeping her constantly busy.

So, singing mice to the rescue! Cinderella has a dress and an idea of how to fix it up, but she doesn’t have time to do it herself, so . . . the mice do it. This leads to one of the more creative, though also sillier, sequences of the movie where the mice and the birds fix up the dress . . . while singing. (Ugh.) It also leads to another fun sequence with Lucifer, as well as the whole “Leave the sewing to the women,” line that kind of irritates me. But regardless, Cinderella tells her stepfamily that she’s not going, tries to make herself feel better and fails, and then the mice surprise her with her newly updated dress. Delighted, she puts it on, and rushes downstairs to join her stepfamily in going to the ball.

Unfortunately, the mice, in their innocence, used things that the stepsisters had discarded in order to work on Cinderella’s dress, specifically a sash and a necklace of beads, and they use that as an excuse to rip Cinderella’s dress to pieces. The stepfamily leaves Cinderella standing in the ruins of her dress as they go off to the ball without her.

So, yeah . . . SHE FREAKING CRIES. Guess what? So would I! She’s been trying to make the best of a crappy situation for so long, she thought she’d finally have a chance to escape, at least for a little while, and then she’s attacked by her stepsisters -- and I mean physically attacked, that scene is creepy! -- while her stepmother did nothing. This was the breaking point. This was the point when she just couldn’t take it anymore. We’ve all been there, and Cinderella has been through more than most. Cut her some slack, folks.

Anyway, she’s had enough. She’s hit her lowest point. She doesn’t even see the point of dreaming anymore. And that’s when the Godmother shows up. Not when she’s doing her best to dream and hope and do what she can, but when she’s lost all hope and needs someone to give her some. And the Godmother doesn’t just grant her this wish on a whim. This is exactly what Cinderella needs, and not just because the Prince is going to be there. So, the Fairy Godmother is not someone who rescues a helpless damsel in distress, but someone who gives hope to someone who has lost it.

So, the Fairy Godmother sings her song and casts her spell and gives Cinderella her warning, and Cinderella is off to the ball. Now, we’ve been ignoring the prince all this time, so let’s turn to him for a bit.

 . . . Yeah, not much to say about the Prince. He doesn’t show up until the ball, and has little to no personality. But we can talk about the king and the duke for a bit.

So, the King is the one who is so gung-ho to marry his son off, very simply because he wants grandchildren. This seems to be partly practical -- carry on the family line -- and partly personal -- his son has long since grown, and the King misses the child he once was. So really, the King is the real love interest in this story. He’s the one with the schemes and the desire for his son to be married. He’s looking after his own happiness rather than his son’s, but the character is so funny and likable that we don’t really mind how selfish and unreasonable he’s being. The King has a very belabored Grand Duke, who basically does all of his bidding and helps to carry out the King’s schemes.

The Prince, therefore, is bored out of his skull during the ball . . . until Cinderella turns up. He sees her, wandering through the palace lost, and approaches her for a dance. And somehow, Cinderella is unaware that this is the Prince. I mean, okay, he’s dressed like any other nobleman at the ball, but given that everyone’s, you know, looking at him and deferring to him, you’d think it would’ve been obvious. But never mind. They dance, obviously infatuated with each other, while we hear “So, This is Love.” Whether they’re actually in love . . . well, I personally think the question is irrelevant, for reasons I’ll explain later.

The dance the night away, and the clock strikes twelve, and Cinderella is off and running. The Prince makes a few token protests (seriously, three lines and a song, that’s all this guy gets) before he is engulfed by adoring young women and obscured from the remainder of the plot. The Duke, who has been charged with keeping an eye on them and informing the King when the Prince proposes, runs after her instead and sends the palace guards after her, knowing that his neck is on the line. (Again: the duke does all this. Not the Prince.) And of course, Cinderella loses the slipper.

Cinderella’s ensemble changes back to pumpkin, mice, horse, dog, and rags, and since the palace guards aren’t looking for those things, they run right past. Cinderella, far from being disappointed, is actually quite happy, and why shouldn’t she be? She got out of the house, away from her stepfamily, got to go to a royal ball, danced with a handsome guy, basically had a one-night stand without the sex, and even though she has to go back to her old life, this night just might be enough to restore her hope in the future again. And of course, she still has the other glass slipper. And no, it’s never explained why the other things disappear and not this. I guess we have to assume that the Fairy Godmother had enough magic to at least let her keep the shoes.

The scene that follows, where the Duke tells the King that the girl got away, is one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie, as the King goes from being giddy at the thought of his son getting married to flying into a murderous rage when hearing that the Duke let the girl get away, and then back to delighted once he learns that the Prince has said he’ll marry the girl who fits the slipper. So here, the King sees an opportunity. The King isn’t really terribly picky whether the Prince marries the girl he loves or not, he just wants him to marry someone. So since the Prince has, probably in a fit of passionate grief, sworn he’ll marry the girl who fits the glass slipper (most likely meaning the girl who owns the slipper), the King intends to hold him to that exact promise, probably thinking that someone is bound to fit the slipper, it doesn’t matter who. Just so long as she can bear grandchildren.

Next morning, as the stepfamily is suffering a post-ball hangover, the King’s proclamation arrives. The stepmother sees the same opportunity that King did, though from the other end of it. The shoe could easily fit either Anastasia’s or Druzella’s foot as well as anyone’s. Once she explains this to her rather dense daughters, they immediately fly into a frenzy, ordering Cinderella around as usual so they can get ready for the arrival of the Duke.

Cinderella, however, isn’t listening. Because she has caught on as well, and this is one thing I love about this moment of the movie. Cinderella not only realizes that the guy she danced with last night is looking for her, but that he’s the Prince. Cinderella had already given up ever seeing him again, dismissing her feelings as infatuation that she would get over eventually. But this isn’t just any suitor: this is the Prince. This is someone who can finally get Cinderella out of her crummy situation. This is her way out.

And once she realizes that, she STOPS listening to her stepfamily. She doesn’t do what they’re ordering her to do; she hands off the clothes and goes to get ready for the Duke. She essentially extends her middle finger to her stepfamily, and goes off to do her own thing, never thinking for a moment that there’s a damn thing they can do about it, because the Prince is looking for HER, and she knows it. Unfortunately, she completely underestimates her stepmother’s bitchiness, and gets locked in her own tower.

So, it’s not like she does NOTHING here. She knows she’s finally getting her break, and prepares for it. The reason why she is thwarted here and has to be rescued is because she’s locked in a remote tower. She can’t jump out the window, she can’t yell for help, and she can’t break out of the door. There’s literally nothing she can do.

So once again, mice to the rescue! As the stepsisters are comically trying on the tiny slipper on their overly large feet, Jaq and Gus retrieve the key from Lady Tremaine’s pocket and start laboriously moving it up the stairs. And can we just stop and look at how freaking badass these mice are? I mean, did you SEE all those stairs? Damn.

Okay, so they bring the key to the top of the tower, but just as they are about to slide it under the door, Lucifer the Cat That Just Needs to Freaking Die Already, traps Gus and the key under a cup and won’t let him go. And now, we have to look at what Cinderella does next. When the birds are having no luck deterring Lucifer, Cinderella remembers the dog, Bruno. Now, earlier in the movie, Cinderella scolded Bruno for terrorizing Lucifer, even though Lucifer totally deserved it, because they had to learn to live together and get along. But now that Lucifer is directly keeping Cinderella from happiness, she says, “Fuck that shit, get the dog up here so he can get rid of this little spawn of Satan.” The birds do, Lucifer falls out the window, and Cinderella is able to free herself and rush downstairs before the Duke storms out in a huff. Lady Tremaine trips the Duke so that the slipper falls and shatters, but even as the Duke is freaking out, Cinderella just calmly pulls out the other slipper. She already knows that she’s won.

And she has. We don’t know what becomes of the stepfamily, but Cinderella and the Prince get married and go off to make grandchildren for the now ecstatic King, and they all live Happily Ever After.

It’s easy to write this movie off as “Just another Disney movie,” but I think they did a much better job with this movie than people give them credit for. Again, if anything, the problems in this movie have more to do with the source material than how Disney adapted it.

But to the checklist:

Give Cinderella control over her destiny: I would say check. Though this Cinderella isn’t the most active of the Disney princesses, she’s still a hell of a lot more active the Perrault’s Cinderella. This Cinderella is very much an optimist, someone who tries to make the best of things, who does actually make an attempt to go to the ball on her own, who makes a conscious choice to leave her stepfamily for the Prince, and who does what she is able to do to get herself rescued. She receives help only when her own efforts have been thwarted by circumstance and general bitchiness. She’s a lot more interesting and active of a character than I think most people give her credit for

Enhance the role of the Prince: Heh, no. But to be fair, they do enhance the role of the people who ACTUALLY want to see the Prince get married--namely the King and, to a lesser extent, the Duke--and I think that actually does a lot. I think that reinforces the fact that despite the way it’s often romanticized, this is still, at its heart, an arrange political marriage. Yes, the Cinderella and the Prince make googly eyes at each other for a bit, but that’s not where the focus is. The focus is on the King scheming to marry off his son by any means necessary, and Cinderella using the fact that the Prince happens to like her to escape from her family. Not that the two of them don’t like each other, I’m sure they do. But it’s more of an added perk to the marriage than something that the story actually revolves around.

Address the plot transgressions: SOME of them are addressed. Cinderella’s dad dies, so isn’t around to see his daughter being treated horribly. Cinderella doesn’t run away because her life with her stepfamily is really all she has. The Fairy Godmother shows up when Cinderella is no longer capable of being optimistic and hopeful and has pretty much reached the end of a very long rope. And it’s not really the Prince using the shoe to identify Cinderella as it is his father taking advantage of the Prince’s grief and using whatever means he can to marry him off. I might be reading quite a lot into a simple story, but I think the characters are well-defined enough in this movie to fill in a lot of these plot holes, and I think that’s really key in this adaptation. They don’t really address the question of the impracticability of a glass slipper or the fact that the slippers don’t disappear with the rest of the outfit, but given that those are iconic parts of the story, and this is an adaptation rather than a retelling, they couldn’t very well get rid of them. So, I’ll give this three-fourths of a check.

Cinderella might not be the best of the Disney faerie tale movies, and maybe my childhood nostalgia colors a lot of this, but I still think the movie holds up pretty well. For all that it’s romanticized, both by Disney lovers and by Disney detractors, the movie actually manages to keep a fair amount of the romance OUT of the movie, and just focuses on telling a compelling story about a girl who gets handed a bad lot and finally gets her break . . . not unlike the previous Disney princess, as it turns out. Walt Disney loved stories about the underdog, the downtrodden protagonist who finds him or herself and rises above adversity. Really, romance was a secondary concern. Viewed in that way, this story works, and much better than I think a lot of people think that it does.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer

Cindy Ella by Robin Palmer

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Prom fever has infected LA—especially Cindy’s two annoying stepsisters, and her overly Botoxed stepmother. Cindy seems to be the only one immune to it all. But her anti-prom letter in the school newspaper does more to turn Cindy into Queen of the Freaks than close the gap between the popular kids and the rest of the students. Everyone thinks she’s committed social suicide, except for her two best friends, the yoga goddess India and John Hughes–worshipping Malcolm, and shockingly, the most popular senior at Castle Heights High and Cindy’s crush, Adam Silver. Suddenly Cindy starts to think that maybe her social life could have a happily ever after. But there’s still the rest of the school to deal with. With a little bit of help from an unexpected source and a fabulous pair of heels, Cindy realizes that she still has a chance at a happily ever after.

Type of Adaptation: Modernization inspired by Cinderella

Yeah, so, originally, I wanted to review Cinderella: Ninja Warrior by Maureen McGowan for reasons that should be self-explanatory. Cinderella. Ninja Warrior. Why wouldn’t I pick that novel?

But, sadly, it ended up being a Choose Your Own Adventure type of novel, which was going to be super hard to review. So I went with choice number two, because I wanted to do an modernization if there was one. And there was . . . but that “inspired by” . . . well, we’ll get to that.

So, this novel is set in LA, and our protagonist, Cindy Ella, has just committed social suicide. How, you ask? Well, by writing a letter to the editor of her school paper denouncing prom. She tells her classmates that they are brainwashed by society to see prom as a major rite of passage, but that one dance shouldn’t be that all important, and they should stand with her and boycott.

She was expecting to stir up the waters. That’s not what happens. What happens is that everyone hates her and she becomes a social outcast.

Now, I don’t personally remember my proms being taken this seriously, but then, I did go to school in hickville, Ohio rather than Hollywood-obsessed LA, so I’ll take this reaction with a grain of salt.

The only two people who stand by Cindy are her two best friends, Malcolm and India, and their inclusion made my eyebrows quirk because I wasn’t aware that Cinderella had friends, I thought that was kind of the point of her story, but hey, A Cinderella Story made it work, so I’ll let it be for now.

Two of the people who are appalled by Cindy’s actions are Ashley and Brittany, her twin stepsisters, nicknamed “the Clones,” and once they tell their mother what Cindy has done, her stepmother is appalled, too. She’s concerned that Cindy is acting out, and that this article is a sign of her deep-rooted depression following the loss of her mother, and that if left unchecked, Cindy might start self-mutilating or something equally drastic.

Which, correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t quite seem in keeping with the usual attitude of Cinderella’s stepmother. But at least she’s still practically a servant in her own home. I mean, constantly being asked to babysit her baby brother if she has nothing else going on? That’s totally the equivalent of hard manual labor with no pay and humiliating work conditions.

Yeah, the longer I read this novel, the less it read like Cinderella.

And the plot is one of the most high-school-drama-centric things I’ve read in a long time. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I understand that these are issues that, in the moment, do seem all important to these kids. But coming from the perspective of a 24-year-old with student loans to pay back, a slightly laughable degree in terms of finding a job, and the prospective of a cross-country move in about five months? I find it really hard to connect to a girl whose biggest troubles stem from the fact that she can’t decide who of the three hot guys she has a crush on to focus her attentions on.

Because when you boil this book down to its essentials, that’s what it becomes. Cindy has eyes for Adam Silver, the most popular guy in school, to whom she has never spoken. And then there’s her 23-year-old SAT tutor upon whom she develops an instant crush. And in the third corner, we have BrklnBoy, an online friend she chats with who, if you’ve seen A Cinderella Story or really read a book ever, you will know is actually Adam Silver.

And Cindy’s level of obsession not only about these three guys but also about how she appears and is presented to these guys is really disappointing to encounter when she is supposedly so very anti-Hollywood values.

And that’s the biggest thing for me here – for a girl who wrote such an impassioned letter against prom and its superficiality, she is awfully fixated on Operation Turn Cindy Into a Girl, which, no seriously, is what it’s called. This new crush, her tutor, walks into the scene, and suddenly Cindy is trying makeup and straightening her hair and wearing new clothes and the whole nine yards — exactly what she is supposed to be denouncing.

It doesn’t help that the Cinderella narrative completely disappears for about 150 pages, meaning that this is the only thing left to focus on.

Noah turns out to be gay, by the way. If you didn’t see that coming. He’ll fill the role of the fairy godmother, or as I like to call him, the Fairy God Gay Man. . . . yeah, the title needs work.

So let’s recap briefly. You have a Cinderella figure, except, not really because she isn’t a servant, she doesn’t have an oppressive family, and she has no desire to go to the ball. . . . Where’s our story, again?

Ah, right. Pointless high school drama. Got it.

The Cinderella narrative reemerges . . . ish . . . as prom draws closer and Cindy finds herself abandoned by India and Malcolm, who have both been asked to go, so they will not be standing with her in anti-prom solidarity. She’s complaining about all of this to BrklnBoy, who asks her to be his not-prom date. Thinking it’s a joke to make her feel better, she accepts.

So she’s in for quite a shock when he messages her the day of prom and asks what time he should pick her up. She’s all, “But you live 3000 miles away in NY!” and he’s all “Lol, no. I go to your school. Conveniently, I’m Adam Silver, your crush, and I’m anti-prom, too, isn’t that fantastic?”

All this is paraphrased, of course. In the novel, there’s much more chatspeak and unnecessary abbreviation, which just . . . fueled my irritation. She’s supposed to want to be a journalist more than anything. Doesn’t seem like it.

Sorry. My grammararian is showing.

So she realizes who BrklnBoy is and that he’s actually going to come get her to do something tonight, so what does our self-professed prom-dress-makeup-hating, t-shit-jeans-and-flip-flop-loving high school sophomore do? Does she go out in whatever, just happy to have time to spend with this boy she’s liked for ages and turns out to actually know? Does she say, “hey, I have to babysit my brother, so how about just hanging at my house watching movies?”


*deep breath*

I’m okay now. Really. I’m better.

Yeah, okay, they didn’t go to the actual prom, but they might as well have. She still went through the whole ritual, it doesn’t matter that she was freakishly overdressed at a carnival instead of crowded into a gymnasium somewhere, she became what she supposedly hated, and gave into the ritual she literally started the novel speaking out against!

Cindy Ella Gold, give me back your activist card because you’ve lost it.

She also loses a shoe on the ferris wheel. It breaks. And she has to be home by midnight because that’s when her dad and stepmom are getting home, and if they find out that she took their one-year-old son out to a carnival on her date (because yeah, that actually happened), they’ll kill her. Rightly so.

And the next day at school, he returns her shoe, saying, “I think you dropped this last night,” and kisses her in front of the whole school.

Okay. Setting aside all my prom-debate-characterization rage, I have another slight bone to pick.

This novel? It isn’t Cinderella. It isn’t. It tries to be. It throws in a lot of the elements. But a stepfamily and a party and a godmother and a prince and a pair of shoes do not Cinderella make. It’s not about the iconic images, it’s about the situations. Cinderella doesn’t boil down to losing a shoe. It’s a lot more than that.

At its heart, Cinderella is a rags to riches story. This is what you need: a young girl, oppressed in some way, looking desperately for an escape. She finds it in the form of a ball and a prince. She is transformed beyond recognition into the object of desire, but she is lost. A single clue left behind provides the means to find her, and she wins her escape. The rest is just details. Set dressing.

Cindy is not oppressed, not looking for escape, doesn’t want the ball. She’s transformed, but the mystery isn’t there. Her identity is never in question. He never has to search for her. Hell, they never even make it to the party, and that’s kinda key, because it’s not just the prince for whom she is transformed; it’s everyone. And that’s just not there.

There’s a party and a prince and a pair of shoes. But this isn’t Cinderella, despite how hard it tries. And in trying, it just becomes infuriating.


Give Cinderella control of her own destiny? She never needed it. She’s as in control as most 16 year olds. She’s a bit at the beck and call of her stepmother, but she’s never really controlled as such, and her destiny never really comes into play.

Enhance the role of the prince? I found Adam Silver to be shallow and two dimensional, playing at being insightful rather than ever showing any real sort of depth. Sorry.

Address the plot transgressions? Let’s see.

Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly?  He doesn’t. Because she isn’t. She’s asked to babysit, guys. That’s the extent of it.

Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly?  Again. Babysitting. Occasionally. And having to listen to her stepfamily’s shallow ranting. But that’s all.

Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being? Not a fairy godmother as such. Just a gay friend who helps her out in a moment of crisis when called on. Her well being was never really his charge.

Anybody going to question glass slippers? No glass slippers. Just designer heels that rip because she wore them on a ferris wheel.

Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts? See above.

Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will? He doesn’t need it to identify her, he just gives it back to her at school.

Guys, if you want a modern Cinderella, watch A Cinderella Story, which I've mentioned about twelve times in this review because this book really did read like a ripoff of that, frankly, much better movie. Yes, I enjoy that movie. Don’t judge me.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Ugh, I suck, I suck, I suck, I suck. Sorry, sorry, sorry for my extreme suckitude.

Now that that’s out of the way, I swear I am getting back on track with the posting of these. I swear. Anyway, self-degradation done, onto the review.

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Type of Adaptation: Futuristic retelling

So, when picking the novels for the month, I really wanted to have at least one with a vastly different setting than vaguely medieval fairy tale land. And with Cinder, I certainly hit that mark.

To start with, let’s place this novel. Our story begins an indeterminate amount of time into Earth’s future, but it’s long enough that the fourth world war is about 150 years in the past and the moon has been colonized long enough that the people there have basically evolved into their own species. So, a while.

Our protagonist, Cinder, is a teenage girl who happens to be the best mechanic in the city, largely because she’s had lots of experience in the field, given that she happens to be a cyborg. She is about 36% machine, as a matter of fact, including her left leg and arm and most of her nervous system. She can’t afford skin grafts to cover her cyborg parts, so she hides them as best she can, behind heavy gloves and long overalls, but they’re always there.

The attitude of this world toward cyborgs is made pretty clear – they’re basically considered second class people, despite the fact that they are, in many cases, people who just had a robotic limb attached after an accident or something similar. Cinder is unusual in her percentage. Most cyborgs are only 5-10% machine.

And what I love about Cinder is that she is still thoroughly human. She has implants controlling her circulation and respiratory system and her chemical releases, but her mind is thoroughly human, and she has control over herself in all but the direst cases.

We start symbolically of Cinderella, watching Cinder replace her too-small robotic foot with one that is actually made for someone her size and not an eleven-year-old, which she was when she was in the accident that killed her parents and nearly killed her.

It’s the atmosphere surrounding Cinder that clues us into the relations of humans toward cyborgs, rather than any exposition, which I appreciate. The exposition we do get is to fill us in on how Cinder is Cinderella, and who her family is.

It turns out, the repair booth she runs in the market belongs to her stepmother and legal guardian, as does all of the money made from Cinder’s work. Cinder’s stepmother Adri inherited Cinder when her husband died, but that husband was not Cinder’s father. He was just a man who had adopted a cyborg orphan from an orphanage for reasons he never made clear to his wife before dying, so now Adri’s stuck with her.

Being a cyborg, and underage, Cinder lacks rights; she is legally owned by Adri, and on top of that, she has no money to speak of. She had to pay for her new foot by sneaking it into another shipment of parts to keep Adri from finding out.

So we learn all this at the start of things, and then a stranger arrives at the booth, with a malfunctioning android that needs to be fixed. Turns out the young stranger is, in fact, Prince Kai, and though he tells Cinder he needs the android for sentimental reasons, her cyborg readout lets her know that he is lying (a handy little tool). But he’s the prince, and she’s a cyborg (though he doesn’t know that), so she doesn’t press him.

He leaves the android with her and heads off, and shortly after he does, a plague outbreak happens in the middle of the market.

Because in this futuristic world with five major Earthen empires and pretty solid world peace, the biggest threat to Earth (apart from Lunar, the moon country that is apparently crazy and magical) is letumosis, a serious plague without cure or antidote, that passes in an unknown way from person to person. They’ve gotten good at shutting down outbreaks, but hundreds of people are still dying every day.

Cinder makes it home from the market, lying to her stepmother about how close it was to their booth. She finds Adri and Pearl, her older stepsister, completely engrossed in news about the upcoming Festival, which is being held despite the fact that the emperor is sick with letumosis. Adri is spending an insane amount of money on dresses for her girls, and true to the Grimm version of the tale, she promises Cinder that she can go if she completes all her chores.

Cinder sees through this lie, knowing that Adri will never run out of chores for her to do, but that’s okay, since she doesn’t really have any interest in going to the ball anyway. Or at least that’s what she tells Peony, the nice stepsister she’s actually friends with, another throwback to the Grimm version of this tale. But the truth is, well, the truth is complicated.

And it gets further complicated when Cinder allows Peony to come along with her to a junkyard to look for parts to fix the hovercar. In the junkyard, she stumbles onto a very, very old car that, as she discovers on closer inspection, isn’t a hovercar at all, but a gasoline car, which fell out of use decades ago. It’s a hideous orange and is described as reminding Cinder of a rotting pumpkin (a description which made me smile), and it’s currently inhabited by rats, but it’s presence sparks an idea in Cinder. That maybe, she can try and fix it up in her spare time, and maybe someday she can escape.

But reality is brought crashing back down when Peony starts to display plague symptoms. Cinder has to report her; if she doesn’t, Peony will infect hundreds. But it’s still the hardest thing Cinder has had to do. And she is fully expecting to be hauled away along with her by the med-droids, but they test her blood and declare her clean, despite the fact that she has been right next to Peony all day.

Cinder rushes home to tell Adri, but Adri already knows. The house is full of med-droids, and Adri is blaming Cinder. It isn’t Cinder’s fault, but that’s never stopped Adri before, and this time, Adri is entirely done. Cinder has become more trouble than she’s worth, so Adri has volunteered her to be a test subject for a letumosis cure – something that cyborgs never return from. Cinder does not go quietly.

We alternate throughout the book between Cinder and Prince Kai, and through Prince Kai, we get the world politics, which I won’t get too far into, as they’re less about Cinderella and more about setting up the world and the sequels which are to come. But we do know that the Eastern Empire is in trouble. The emperor is sick with letumosis and has days to live. Kai is going to be emperor very soon unless a cure is found. He’s seventeen, watching his father die, and having to prepare to inherit all the troubles of his empire. Also, he just met a girl he can’t get out of his head.

We get a background for the Lunar queen during Kai’s sections as well, and it’s clear that she is a nasty piece of work. We learn that she killed her sister for her throne, forced her stepdaughter to mutilate her own face so she wouldn’t grow to be prettier than the queen, and burned her niece, the rightful heir, to death. Though there are conspiracy theorists who believe the young princess might still be alive.

And that was the point where I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Because when you have an orphaned main character and a supposedly killed rightful heir to a throne, there’s usually only one way that ends, and I really didn’t want the novel to go that route, but unfortunately, what I saw coming a mile away was, in fact, the “plot twist” – Cinder is actually the super secret princess in disguise, and she doesn’t even know it!!!

And don’t get me wrong, this is still a good novel that I enjoyed. I was just a bit disappointed that Meyer went the cliched orphaned princess route in the end. But let’s just continue.

Anyway, the Queen is just a nasty woman, and she wants to be an Earthen empress. She was trying to get the old emperor to agree to marry her, but now that he’s dying, she’ll settle for Kai, whether Kai wants it or not.

Back to Cinder, she’s being treated a bit differently from the other cyborg plague test subjects, largely because she is apparently immune to letumosis, which is unheard of. She hears from the healer in charge that the only people ever known to be immune are Lunars, and it’s his suspicion that she is a Lunar refugee with a stolen ID chip implanted in her when she became a cyborg.

Cinder really doesn’t want this to be true, especially given that Lunars are hated even more than cyborgs because they have the ability to manipulate a person’s bioelectric energy, essentially brainwashing people into believing whatever they want. Queen Levana can do it; it’s how she controls all the Lunars and why everyone on Earth is afraid of her.

So for Cinder to be both a cyborg and Lunar paints basically the worst possible future ever.

And it doesn’t help that Kai knows neither of these things, is fixated on her, and keeps trying to convince her to go to the ball with him. If he has a personal guest, then Queen Levana, who is coming to Earth for a “diplomatic” visit, might be staved off.

But the healer who knows she’s Lunar and cyborg (and is a super good guy for helping keep these things from Kai), warns her that Levana cannot know she is here. Levana will recognize another Lunar, and things will be bad.

Obviously, though, for the sake of story, she has to be noticed, and noticed she is, when dropping off the Prince’s newly fixed android. The droid was purposefully corrupted so that some unknown someone could tap into what Kai was investigating, which happened to be the rumors that the Lunar princess is alive somewhere.

Moving along and skipping all the politic stuff to get to the Cinderella stuff, both the emperor and Peony die from the plague, despite Cinder’s blood being used to try and create an antidote. Unbeknownst to Adri, Cinder has been getting paid for the use of her blood into a secret, separate account, and she has been using the money to fix up the car in the junkyard and buy gasoline for it. Her plan is to run on the night of the Festival, escape to Europe and start a new life for herself.

But then she intercepts a message meant for Kai from the Lunar surface - a warning. Queen Levana knows the research he’s been doing. He has to be warned, so he can protect himself, and Cinder is the only one who can get the message to him – at the festival.

Luckily, she has the gown Peony was going to wear, and silk gloves that were given to her by Kai in case she changed her mind about the ball, and even though both are stained and wrinkled and smudged, they’re all she has, and they’re better than showing up in her mechanics close.

She’s also walking on the too-small foot once more because Adri made her give up her new one when she discovered Cinder had bought it without approval. But none of that can be helped.

And she’s panicking a bit because her ID chip probably isn’t going to scan her into the ball, and she’s thinking fast to find an excuse that will get her through the gate, but it turns out Kai put her on the list as his personal guest, just in case, so she makes it through the doors. And then she’s announced, which was not part of her plan.

Kai is at her side in an instant, thrilled to see her – until he hears what she has to say. But before he can be convinced, Levana is there, exposing Cinder as a Lunar fugitive and a cyborg, and when Cinder’s too small foot is wrenched off, she can’t exactly deny it. And the reaction is just what she expected. Kai is confused and hurt, but it’s Levana who forces him to do what happens next.

Housing a Lunar fugitive is grounds for war, and unless Kai agrees to have Cinder executed, the Lunar army will attack. So he has no choice. She’s taken away to the dungeon, and we end this book with the healer, who visits Cinder, reveals that he, also, is a Lunar fugitive, and that she, surprise surprise, is the long lost princess, and that she must escape the dungeon at all costs.

We’re setting up a sequel here, so that’s where we end.

Though I am disappointed by the predictable plot twist, I did enjoy this story, and the reworking of Cinderella into a futuristic, sci-fi setting. It reminded me a lot of Sharon Shinn’s Jenna Starborn, which does a similar thing with Jane Eyre. But this is a unique reimagining of a classic tale, and that’s hard to do these days. So let’s look at the checklist.

Give Cinderella some control of her own destiny? Entirely. Cinder is constantly arguing and making her own choices, putting her foot down, and doing everything in her power to negotiate and control her own life. She doesn’t always succeed, but she sure as hell tries.

Enhance the role of the prince? I love Kai because his issues and struggles feel so real. He’s in a dangerous place, and while he knows it, he still is only 17, and that is balanced very well. His lot is entirely unfair and he knows it, but there’s little he can do about it. He’s flawed, but a great character all the same, and I like that he falls for Cinder slowly and for more than just her looks. In the end, he doesn’t reject and imprison her because she’s a cyborg and a Lunar. He doesn’t have a choice, which she recognizes, and he’s more hurt that she didn’t feel she could trust him with the truth, and that was lovely to read.

Address the plot transgressions? Let’s see.

Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly?  He doesn’t. He’s dead. And he wasn’t her dad in the first place. Rather, he was the first person to identify Cinder as the lost princess, and he was protecting her the only way he could.  

Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly?  She tries, holy hell does she try. But she’s fighting an unfair system every step of the way, and it’s stronger than she is.

Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being? There is no FG as such; rather, Cinder is in charge of her own future, getting to the ball with transportation and gown under her own power. The Healer is the closest to a FG that we get, and once he finds Cinder, he helps as much as he’s able without getting caught himself.

Anybody going to question glass slippers? No glass slippers, just a too-small cybernetic foot.

Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts? See above.

Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will? The foot less identifies Cinder as Cinder and more serves as proof that she’s a cyborg, but I have a feeling it’s going to become more important in the sequel. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait til next month to see.

There will be another review posted today because I swear I am getting back on track. I swear!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

I have gotten so bad at uploading these on time. I'm sorry, really, and I'm gonna try to improve. Life's just been on overload lately. Anyway, here it is, five days late. But enjoy!

Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

Target Audience: YA/Teen

Summary: Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, whereby young princes and princesses travel to each other's countries in the name of better political alliances--and potential marriages. It's got the makings of a fairy tale--until a hapless servant named Eleanor is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince. Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers fly in this romantic and action-packed happily-ever-after quest from an author with a flair for embroidering tales in her own delightful way.

Type of Adaptation: Retelling

So it should come as no surprise to anyone by now that I love Jessica Day George. I think I’ve stated before that she can do no wrong in my book? Yeah, she can do no wrong.

Princess of Glass is a companion novel to Princess of the Midnight Ball. It’s not strictly necessary to have read that one first, but it does help to know the background info – PotMB was Twelve Dancing Princesses retold. Rose and Galen, our protagonists from that book, have married and are set to become king and queen of Westfalin some day. But the rest of the countries in Ionia are less certain of their future, and tension is pretty high.

Remember how all the princes die in TDP? Well, in PotMB, those deaths were accidental rather than deliberate, but it still means that most countries lost at least one heir, and while there is peace, it is tentative, and so the rulers of the Ionian kingdoms come up with a plan – a giant child-swap. Each country will send some of its children to other countries to “foster friendships and connections,” which in this case is obvious code for “giant marital scheme.”

The kids all see through this, of course, but they recognize how important it is, particularly the princesses of Westfalin, who are indirectly responsible for the tension currently in Ionia.

In this novel, we follow Poppy, kickass middle princess from PotMB, as she travels to Breton (Ionia’s equivalent of England), the country her mother was from. She stays with the Seadown family, her mother’s cousin, though apart from the Seadowns, Poppy is not terribly well received for a few reasons. One, she’s a highly unorthodox princess who knits and plays cards and curses. Two, everyone believes that she’s cursed or a witch or something like that, given the mysterious circumstances surrounding her and her sisters. And three, Poppy has flat out refused to dance. At all.

Also present in Breton for the Great Marriage Swap is the Prince from Danelaw, named Christian. And King Rupert of Breton is much more interested in him, because he desires a tie to Danelaw and its navy. He’s very blunt, asking Christian point blank if he has any plan to marry one of his daughters, but given that the girls in question are nine and seven and Christian is seventeen, he declines. And so, King Rupert is determined to marry Christian off to a Bretoner noble woman, because then the tie to the country will still exist.

And what George has done here is brilliant. This is a unique but compelling reason behind throwing the balls to marry the prince. King Rupert can’t force Christian to marry a Bretoner girl, but he can sure as hell try, by throwing every eligible girl in the kingdom at him, repeatedly, at three separate balls to take place over the summer.

Now, Poppy is our focal character in this, which makes sense; she is, after all, the familiar face, and this is her story. But she is not our Cinderella. No. That distinction belongs to Eleanora, who now goes by the name of Ellen, as Ellen sounds more common. See, Eleanora’s father was a minor nobleman, and they were pretty well to do until he started gambling. He ended up losing all their money, and then he died, and Eleanora was left utterly destitute. He had no fortune left to give her, and she had no other family. The only option available was to go into service.

No other family? I hear some of you saying. Then how can she be Cinderella? Where is the stepmother? Where are the stepsisters? Simple: That’s the role that’s been given to Poppy.

This is brilliant. Really. Poppy is staying with a family with a girl her age, Marianne. And while they’re not “evil stepsisters” exactly as we know them through Cinderella, they do fill that role in Ellen’s life. They are the girls Ellen is forced to wait on. And while they don’t go out of their way to make her life miserable, they are dismissive of her and short-tempered on more than one occasion.

Because Ellen is a horrible servant. And unlike Diane Zahler’s princesses-turned-servants, it’s not because she’s inherently bad at it – in this case, it’s spell, though we don’t find that out until later. But Ellen can’t do anything right. She spills the tea trays and burns the ironing and drops laundry in the coal scuttles, and Poppy and Marianne have little patience for her because they think she is doing those things on purpose.

And boom. Instant stepsisters. But what I love so much about this dynamic is how our Cinderella is characterized. Because in this version, she’s not the sweet, innocent child who remains gentle and kind despite what love throws at her. No, Ellen/Eleanora is constantly aware of what she lost. She’s angry about it. She hates it. She hates that being a servant is all she can do with her life now, and she hates that she’s bad at being a servant. She is lonely and miserable and she knows exactly how unfair her life is.

Which is how and why the Corley is able to use her. The Corley is the big bad of this novel, and my favorite part? The Corley is the fairy godmother. Gah, I love this author so much!

Because she’s the freakin’ fairy godmother! The one who rescues Cinderella and gives her her heart’s desire! Except that in this version, she’s a dark spirit out for revenge, preying on a girl full of bitterness and resentment, planting in her ear the seed of what she “wants.” Because the Corley needs a girl who she assists to marry a prince of the Danelaw for reasons that I won’t try to summarize because they’re complicated and not directly related to Cinderella. Ellen is that girl, and Christian is that prince.

And so, as the balls approach, the Corley helps Ellen. She gets her a gown (that copies Poppy’s), and a way to the ball, and then, the Corley pours molten glass onto Ellen’s feet and shapes it into slippers, magical, flexible slippers that will move with Ellen as she dances, but if she fails to return before midnight, the glass will harden and that will be bad. And then, decked out in an enchantment that Ellen thinks is just keeping her unrecognizable but is actually making every young man completely lose his head over her, she heads out to the ball.

Back to Poppy, as this is Poppy’s tale, she recognizes an enchantment when she sees one. I mean, after all she’s been through, it’d be hard not to. And at Galen’s request, she carries charms against enchantments on her person at all times, and so she alone (along with Ellen’s eventual actual love interest, Richard) is unaffected by the Corley’s spell. She recognizes Ellen as Ellen, even when no one else does, and she knows something bad is going on.

With Richard’s help, and their joint knowledge of protective enchantments, they come up with a way to break through the Corley’s spell — sort of. Poppy knits spelled bracelets and Richard brews a potion, but the potion has to be drunk every day, and Poppy has to convince the enchanted people to wear the things, and it’s far harder with the men than the women, and Christian is the hardest of all.

Given that Christian is the focus of the spell, that makes sense. And yet, he fights against it, too, without fully realizing it. He fights against it when “Lady Ella” is out of his sight because, and I know you’ll all be shocked to hear this, he’s fallen in love with Poppy. Which means the enchantment has to work twice as hard on him, and it doesn’t help that Poppy and Ellen look very similar, and she shows up to the first ball in a replica of Poppy’s dress. Christian actually approaches her initially thinking she is Poppy, because he wants to convince Poppy to dance.

Now, the balls are spread out over a month in this story, which is nice because it actually gives things a chance to happen realistically. And I love watching Poppy’s progression as she slowly learns the truth about Ellen – that she’s not being a bad servant on purpose, that she can’t control it, and finally, when she goes to confront her after the second ball, that she’s being controlled and manipulated as much as everyone else.

What convinces Ellen to tell Poppy the whole story? Why, the fact that her feet have turned to glass. Yeah, she didn’t quite get back in time after that second ball. And so she’s freaking out because the deal is, Christian has to propose to her before the end of the third ball, and if he doesn’t, very very bad things will happen. She went along with the plan initially because she wanted out of this life, and a prince was as good as anyone. But now she’s miserable, and what’s more, she doesn’t love Christian, she loves Richard, and she knows that Christian doesn’t love her, either. She doesn’t want to marry him, doesn’t want to go through with the Corley’s plan. But this isn’t exactly something you can just back out of.

It’s Christian who comes up with the plan in a moment where he’s free of the Corley’s curse, more or less. Ellen can’t dance at the final ball — her feet are glass; it’s not going to happen. So they have to trick the Corley by sending someone down in Ellen’s place. Someone who can wear a mask (because the ball is a masquerade) and look very like Ellen. Someone like Poppy.

Poppy agrees. She’s not terribly happy about it, but she knows it has to be done. So she goes through the fireplace to the Corley’s lair, acting like Ellen, and she thinks the ruse works. She gets the glass poured on her feet, and she’s decked out like a peacock, and she goes to the ball and dances with Christian, and then just before midnight, he proposes to “Ella,” and they think that maybe it’s worked.

Until they are thoroughly disabused of that notion when Poppy is physically pulled by magic from the room and from Christian to the carriage waiting outside. Poppy fights the magic as best she can, and while she’s no match for it, she does fight the shoes off her feet before being snatched away to the Corley’s lair.

And she and Ellen are there together because the Corley knew. And the whole entourage of people working to break this enchantment – Lord Seadown, Lady Seadown, Marianne and her beau Dickon, Richard, and Christian — likewise make their way to the Corley’s lair, where the enchantment is much stronger than it has ever been.

Christian finds Ellen and Poppy dressed identically, and he has to choose his true love, and they cannot speak. All he has is the slipper to go on. But the first girl, her feet aren’t quit right – they’re made of glass. So it has to be the second. He slips the shoe onto Poppy’s foot, and other things happen simultaneously to defeat the Corley, and it’s happily ever after for all parties involved.

I adore Jessica Day George and the way she tells stories. This is the first real adaptation she’s done; her other two fairy tale novels were on lesser known stories, so she stayed pretty close to the original, just fleshing them out. But with Cinderella, she really had her chance to put her own spin on it, and what a marvelous spin it turned out to be.


Give Cinderella some control of her own destiny? Yes. Eleanora wanted her out, in the beginning. She was desperate for it. The Corley preyed on that, but Ellen did also choose it, and choose to go along with it, and when she decided she wanted out, she made that decision on her own as well, choosing someone other than the prince, choosing to trust people to help. She shaped her own destiny, absolutely.

Enhance the role of the prince? I love that Christian, so befuddled by enchantment that he can hardly see or speak straight, is still the one to come up with a possible solution, because what seems so obvious to him has escaped everyone else’s notice – the fact that Ellen and Poppy look so very similar. The poor guy spends all his time under a curse, just about, but he fights it so hard, and he’s a wonderful character. So check.

Address the plot transgressions? Let’s see.

Why does Cindy’s dad allow her to be treated so horribly?  He doesn’t. He’s dead.     

Why doesn’t Cindy fight her servitude or leave if she’s being treated so badly?  Servitude is literally the only option left for her. She’s not even a servant in her old house because that’s even gone. She does not have another choice.

Why hasn’t the fairy godmother made an appearance before this point, if she’s charged with Cinderella’s happiness and well being? She’s not actually Ellen’s godmother, she just discovered this lonely, miserable girl and took advantage. FG as bad guy. I love it.

Anybody going to question glass slippers? They’re beautiful but horrifying in this version. Molten glass poured over my feet? I don’t care if it’s magical glass — no thank you! And I love that Poppy gets to tell Christian how horribly painful the shoes are.

Why don’t the slippers disappear along with the rest of the FG’s gifts? Not specifically explained, but the whole ensemble isn’t magical in that way, really. It’s not a glamour that will fade, precisely.

Why does the prince need the shoe to identify Cinderella, and is it really reasonable to assume that it will? This isn’t just a case of having the same size feet. It’s that the shoe was literally molded to a foot, so yeah, only gonna fit her. Also, it was more the feet identifying the girl than the shoe. There were only two, and even in his mind-fuddle, Christian knew the girl he loved didn’t have feet of glass.

Strong adaptation all the way around. Love it, absolutely love it.