"CINDER AND ELLA," by Melissa Lemon, Cedar Fort, $9.99, 198 pages (f)
If you think you've heard every variation on the Cinderella story, this book by first-time author Melissa Lemon will change your mind.
There are no fairy godmothers, no glass slippers or even a prince to marry at the end. Oh, there's a handsome prince, all right, but he's the villain of the story.
Cinder and Ella are sisters in an unhappy home. Father is missing, Mother is strangely disconnected from the world and fellow siblings Beatrice and Katrina are outrageously spoiled. Cinder leaves home to work at the castle, and soon Ella leaves as well. The adventure unfolds as Cinder and Ella, in somewhat separate stories, work to help each other, find their father and uncover the mystery behind the evil prince.
The charm of the book lies in the clever reinventing of the classic Cinderella tale that it barely resembles. The idea that each person's life force is connected to a tree is especially creative and gives the story a feeling of legend.
Still, the story does stumble. In some ways it has a middle-grade feel, yet one scene in particular, in which it is implied something may happen, feels as if it is meant for older readers. (Despite the implied danger, nothing offensive is described.)
The romantic elements lack chemistry — it's questionable that young female readers used to dashing teen heroes will connect with either of the eventual love interests. One lacks a nobility of character that may leave the reader surprised that he is chosen.
Drifts in viewpoint make it hard to sink into the story, and passive sentence constructions take away from the pacing. Readers may scratch their heads as characters do inexplicable things or behave in ways that seem cross-type, without a satsifying explanation for these actions at the end.
Lemon does a good job of infusing the tale with an old-fashioned feel, and readers who love fairy-tale retellings may enjoy a completely fresh take on the Cinderella legend.
Margot Hovley's first novel will be published by Covenant Communications in 2012. Find her popular self-reliance blog at www.mynewoldschool.com and she blogs about her writing adventures at www.margothovley.com.