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.

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