Here we are, back for another Throwback Thursday! This week's selection...
Ella Enchanted! This, Gail Carson Levine's first novel, is one of my very favorite Cinderella retellings. Ranks right up there with Ever After.
So Ella of Frell was cursed when she was born. It wasn't meant to be a curse, but (apparently) these things happen. Ella must be obedient. She has to obey every single command thrown her way, even if it will put her or her loved ones in danger. But even with this less-than-desirable way of life she has to lead, she grows up to be a spunky and clever girl, since she's had to find ways around doing exactly as she's told, to the point where she almost gets to be disobedient.
After her mother dies, she is put in the care of her ever-absent father, a greedy merchant. She also meets and befriends Prince Charmont ("Call me Char"), but only right before she's sent off to finishing school with the detestable Hattie and Olive, disgusting, greedy, dreadful girls that no one would want to get near. Luckily, she is able to escape. Unfortunately, things just seem to go downhill from there, and this is where we start to see the Cinderella story skeleton. Her father marries Hattie and Olive's mother, Dame Olga. They treat her worse than they'd treat a servant. She falls in love with the prince. BUT! The big problem? How could she possibly find a happily ever after if she must do everything she's told? Can she break the curse?
This is an incredibly clever take on Cinderella, a tale that mostly portrays the title character as a meek and helpless woman who needs to help of fairies and a man to get what she wants. Ella is none of these things. She is feisty, incredibly intelligent (especially with languages), knows what she wants, and figures out how to get it. This is no helpless damsel in distress, here.
Characterization is wonderful. Most of the characters are multifaceted, especially Ella's father. He readily admits he's a greedy man, yet there is this honesty he has with Ella, and an admiration for her that you wouldn't expect from someone who is painted to be such a villain. Ella is extremely likable and relatable (she not exactly popular at school, and she has to deal with mean girls and bullies; though, I don't know how relatable it is to be trapped by ogres). The rest of the cast of characters are all unique and not exactly stock characters, though we of course have to have each role filled (ugly stepsisters, evil stepmother, fairy godmother, etc.).
I love how Levine has created all of these different cultures and languages, without making it seem overwhelming, like when you read The Lord of the Rings. You know just what you need to know, and apparently the new edition of the book has glossaries. Excellent!
When I first read this, I remember thinking it was one of the best books I'd ever read. I don't think at that point that I'd ever really read anything like this; the only Cinderella I'd ever seen was the Disney one, and she's a wimp. This made Cinderella WAY better. (Plus, best part? I got the book for free through the Barnes & Noble summer reading program. How awesome.)