Not long after Ella first meets Char, her father decides he can get much more use out of her if she stops acting like such a wild child and learns the traits valued by society in a real lady. Much to her horror, she finds herself being shipped off to finishing school with Hattie the Horrible and Olive the Overbearing with not so much as a "fare you well". Mandy, however, gifts her with a storybook that will allow her to see what's going on at home while she's away. Despite their less-than-average intelligence, it doesn't take long for Hattie and Olive to realize that Ella can't disobey orders. Soon they've got her jumping through hoops, doing everything from giving up her mother's necklace to acting as their maid. Ella's only reprieve from the torture is her new-found friend Areida, an Ayorthaian who is also an outcast in the social structure of the school. Then, Hattie finds out about their friendship and orders Ella to stop being friends with her. When her magic storybook shows a letter her father wrote describing his upcoming journey to a giant's wedding, she decides it's as good a place as any to get out of Dodge. Hoping to exact a little revenge on Hattie, she snatches her wig and heads off to see the wonders of a giant's wedding.
Along the way, she ends up in the realm of the elves, who gift her with a valuable piece of pottery she was drawn to. They give her a pony and send her on her merry way, wishing her the best of luck on her journey. Unfortunately, when you've spent your entire life in servitude thanks to an overly hasty fairy, luck really isn't on your side. Such is the case when she wakes up next to the remains of her pony and realizes she's become the prisoner of a group of ogres who are debating how to evenly split her up for dinner. Completely fed up with her lot in life, Ella decides to take matters into her own hands, using the persuasiveness of the ogre's voice against them. She manages to lure them to sleep but still can't escape because they told her not to. Enter Char, who (very luckily) happened to be in the area with a band of knights. They congratulate her on a job well done and Char inadvertently gives her permission to leave, allowing one of his knights to escort her to the giant's wedding. Finally, they arrive at the wedding just in time for the ceremony. The whole affair was going off without a hitch... until Lucinda showed up with a "gift" for the newlyweds. After she gives them the "gift" of not being able to go anywhere without each other, a new meaning was given to the phrase "not a dry eye in the house" as the horrified onlookers bemoan yet another victim of Lucinda's foolishness. Ella approaches Lucinda to try to get her to remove the curse, but Lucinda takes a different approach, commanding Ella to be happy to be in servitude to others. And so, of course, that's what she must be. She returns home with her father, happy to hear that he's decided to marry her off to the next rich dude that happens by.
After a brief incident involving some Elvish justice mushrooms and Ella's future husband, Mandy realizes what's happened and enters a fit of righteous fury. She commands Ella to stop being happy about serving, but now there's a new problem; Sir Peter has decided to mend his situation by himself and has found a rich wife. That sounds like the opposite of a problem, until we learn that said rich wife is Dame Olga. Now THAT is a problem. One very boring wedding, another Lucinda gift, a magical glass slipper discovery, and some stair-rail sliding with Char later, Ella finds herself alone in the house with her new step-family while her father goes off on yet another business trip. Once Hattie leaks Ella's secret, she's demoted to a position equivalent to that of scullery maid, but with none of the respect. With no one but Mandy and a parrot for company, Ella turns to writing Char, who's off on a diplomatic trip to Ayortha. As it turns out, Ayorthaians' primary focus is inner contemplation; Char is bored to death, and corresponds with Ella as much as he can, still completely oblivious to both her curse and her demotion to living doormat. Things start heating up pretty quickly, and soon it's apparent that Char and Ella are hopelessly in love with each other. Marriage is brought up several times, but Ella realizes that she could put the whole country in danger by being married to Char; state secrets could be leaked, or even worse, someone could order her to kill Char. Heartbroken, she sends a letter to Char under Hattie's name saying that she had run off with the first rich man she could get her hands on. With literally nothing left, Mandy decides to set Lucinda straight once and for all, but she still refuses to take the curse off and let Ella be reconciled with Char. Ella receives word that Char will be holding a ball to find a wife, and realizing this might be her last chance to see him, she decides to go in disguise. Will she be forced to witness the love of her life marry another, or will she be able to break the curse and live happily ever after?
First of all, if you can't stand annoying characters, put the book down and walk away. You will not like this book. Dame Olga and Hattie (and Olive, in her own way) are evil incarnate. Witches. Bad. 900% can't stand them. How can you treat someone like they're the literal dirt you walk on?? I get waaaay too into this stuff. But if you can manage to look past these admittedly crucial story pieces, the story will pull you in and not let you out until you've finished. Usually, I read a couple chapters on the bus ride to/from school or in between classes, but once I was a few chapters into this one, I took it with me everywhere until it was done. Aside from that, despite the fact that it's technically a children's book, some of the plot elements work for an older audience. (I'm looking at you, eaten-by-ogres pony and jerky Sir Peter who used mushrooms to coerce Ella into liking her future husband).
One of the main things that bugged me was the large number of coincidences that drove the plot. For example, Ella just happens to get lost where the elves live who just happen to know her father and happen to have a pottery piece like the ones they wouldn't sell her father. And then Char just happens to show up when she's been captured by ogres. And please don't get me started on the way they happened to find a magical glass slipper that happened to fit Ella (and only Ella's) foot. Especially in a fantasy novel, coincidences are probably an important plot driver, so maybe I'm being too harsh. But man are there a lot of them.
- New take on the Cinderella fairy tale
- Engaging, edge-of-your-seat read
- Enough mature plot elements to keep older readers entertained
- REALLY annoying characters (How can Lucinda be THAT dumb? Why is Dame Olga such a witch? Why is Hattie such a witch and why does she need a wig? I HAVE QUESTIONS)
- Lots of coincidences eventually start to make you suspicious
- My perverted sense of justice would've been way happier if something nasty had happened to Dame Olga and Hattie at the end, Grimm brothers style