Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon
Goodreads: Cinder and Ella
Summary: Cinder and Ella lived happily with their parents and two sisters until the prince came. Soon after, their father disappeared, and Cinder and Ella were left to care for a family who quickly became bitter and self-absorbed. Eventually, Cinder seeks work and better pay at the kingdom castle—but then Ella is brought there by force. It is then up to her to unravel the mystery of what the corrupt prince wanted with her father and now with her.
Review: Here is a retelling that comes close to the spirit of an original fairytale. Far from being a fleshed-out novel with psychologically complex characters, Cinder and Ella is something readers must simply accept. Plot events happen suddenly. There is little build-up to the romance. Not everything that happens even makes sense. A mother who sits in a corner all day doing nothing but spinning just because her husband disappeared? Interesting. Even a little haunting. But it requires some suspension of disbelief.
Generally, Lemon’s asking of the audience to simply accept her world as it stands works well enough. It becomes problematic mainly when the reader realizes that two of the major plot points are a little unclear. First, there is a legend of the trees that figures prominently in the story, which basically suggests that each person has a tree to which he or she is tied so that the health of one effects the others. Okay. Yet there are obviously some nuances to this whole process that Lemon never shared. Secondly, it is clear the prince is evil, practically from the first page. Why? Exactly how? This is a complete mystery for the majority of the story and once it finally is explained…it really is not.
Even more ambiguity arises when one strives to classify this book. Is it middle grade? The simplicity of the story and the storytelling could make it appropriate. Yet there are some minor themes that might inspire readers to push it into young adult, including the frequent drunkenness of a decently prominent character and the subsequent unwanted sexual attention he tries to bestow. In fact, he is stated as having a history of “ruining women.” None of this is graphic and none of it plays a particularly significant role in the tale. So the question becomes: what is it doing there at all? Perhaps I am, as accused, a slightly prudish reader, but I think I would be taken aback if a ten-year-old were to ask me what it means to “ruin women.”
The next genre dilemma is whether this is a Christian book. It is not overtly Christian, and any readers who are not particularly fond of Christian works have no reason to run away. The focus is on the fairytale and love—whether that is romantic or familial. So really it is quite surprising when the king gives a very God-like speech on the subject of free will and evil in the world. And after that it becomes simply impossible to stop from thinking of the prince as the “Prince of Darkness.” So clearly there is no Trinity going on here, and it seems a little strange to think of the devil as God’s son, but….it is there. Maybe Lemon simply has a religious philosophy that made its way into the book when she needed to address important life themes.
Lemon ultimately manages to tell an interesting story, although the extent to which it can properly be called a retelling of “Cinderella” is also debatable. There are mean stepsisters and a lot of chores, but the obvious parallels end there. There is generally more action than romance and, as stated, the actual prince is evil. In the end, the major issue with the book is that the story never quite decides what it wanted to be. Lemon has a great imagination, but there are a few technical issues transferring it to paper.