Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Learning to be an English teacher makes you very self-conscious of your every word and movement, especially when you’re forced to watch yourself teach on DVD (not fun, trust me).

All of a sudden, you realize how unthinkingly you word things, how easy it is to point (bad), how hard it can be to elicit answers (good) without forcing them (bad). It makes things even harder when your students are unruly 15-year-olds and all you want to do is tell them to shut up and listen (bad). If only you could somehow force these children to behave, you think.

Enter Lucinda, terrible fairy godmother extraordinaire, who doesn’t seem to realize that what she considers gifts, are in actual fact curses. Forced obedience: it seems almost a dream for teaching those rambunctious teenagers, but this curse has a darker side that is wonderfully explored in this young adult novel.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Cover image

Ella Enchanted is an entertaining re-telling of the classic Cinderella tale, in which Ella is cursed with the fairy gift of obedience.

Apparently it’s been made into a film, but I haven’t seen it, and hadn’t even heard of the book until a friend gave it to me. Despite the silly cover, I was pleasantly surprised.

Plot summary:

At birth, Ella is inadvertently cursed by an imprudent 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 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.

Thoughts:

I find it hard to review this story without comparing it to Ember, another Cinderella retelling which I read and reviewed in December.

Ella is different in that it is aimeed at a younger audience, and as such has less of the grisly details and darkness of Ember, which were a strong selling point for me. Nonetheless, Ella is a fun read, light-hearted but with surprising depth in the world-building.

I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the classic-but-different beasts: ogres with honeyed, siren-like voices, big friendly giants, dumb centaurs, and more. The parts in which Ella is alone and travelling were the most enjoyable for that very reason.

Another strong point was how Ella’s curse was handled, and the scrapes she gets into because she has to obey everything she is told to do. Although–and perhaps this is my Tales of MU reading creeping in–I couldn’t help but wonder why Ella’s mother didn’t just work her way around the curse by setting down clear, carefully worded orders that would protect Ella from the more vicious, self-serving people out there.

(Such as: “From now on, obey my orders and no one else’s. Do not follow orders that would put you or others in danger.” etc.)

I did find the characterization of everyone other than Ella a little weak — a little archetypal — but to be honest this isn’t the kind of book you read for strong characterization. I also thought the love plot thread was a little forced, in that fairy tale way where things seem to work out perfectly, but the dramas along the way made up for it.

In sum, if you enjoyed the free online story Ember (see my review here), I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy Ella Enchanted — it is aimed at a slightly younger audience, but keeps the subtle twists on classic fairy tales that makes reading these types of stories such a pleasure.

This book is one of my 100+ Reading Challenge!

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About A.M. Harte

A.M. Harte writes twisted speculative fiction, such as the post-apocalyptic Above Ground and the zombie love anthology Hungry For You. She is excellent at missing deadlines, has long forgotten what ‘free time’ means, and is utterly addicted to chocolate.
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6 Responses to Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

  1. Najela says:

    I liked this book. The movie was stupid, but you bring up a brilliant about about the mother finding away around the story. I suppose there wouldn’t be much of a story if they had found a way around it, eh? I’m curious to what you mean by your Tales of MU reading creeping in?

    I keep forgetting to finish reading Ember. I really enjoyed it as well, at least the parts that I did read.

    • a.m.harte says:

      In Tales of MU, one of the characters — Two — is a gollum, self-aware but obedient to a fault. It’s something that is taken advantage of, because she “doesn’t count as a real person” since she was man-made.

      It’s probably one of the most interesting aspects of Alexandra Erin’s world, particularly when Mack (main character) takes it upon herself to help Two by coming up with prescriptive, strict rules that essentially give Two her freedom. Of course, the wording of those rules has to be really precise; it’s almost a logic puzzle to make things turn out okay.

      And you should finish Ember! It’s a great read!

  2. When I was younger this was one of my favourite books, I re-read it a lot! But it lost its shine as I got older and read even better books. I will definitely have to check out Ember.

    • a.m.harte says:

      Yes, check it out! Especially since Ember is available for free. ;-)

      I think you’ll enjoy it — it’s fun, but with an edge of darkness to it. And it has a curse simialr to Ella’s obedience, but on the prince instead of on the girl.

  3. Te he! I’m an English teacher. This is my fourth year. Trust me, there is no way to do it without at some point forcing them to give answers and/or telling them to shut up and listen. But I’ll let you discover that yourself…

    • a.m.harte says:

      I don’t teach anymore thankfully! It was fun but a lot more tiring than I expected. And it was hard being at the time a mere 20 year old trying to force 12-15 year olds to listen to me — teaching adults who were 25+ was a lot, lot easier!

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