In this retelling of Cinderella, Prunella (“Ella”) Upton is a smart-mouthed seventeen-year-old supporting her loving stepmother and her two kind but rather clueless stepsisters. Though they have little money, Ella takes care of her family as best she can. When the king announces a ball to introduce all the ladies of the land to the charming Prince Florian, Ella is sure that it’s just another of his many disguised taxes, but her stepmother and stepsisters are so intent on attending that Ella does everything in her power to make it possible.
On the fringes of the story, we have Ella’s courtship with Commander Crushington, a mysteriously disappearing ex-lover, and her loveable best friend Mal. There are also mentions of several mysteries throughout.
Alright. So I’m a pretty big fan of retellings. There’s just something about taking a classic story and putting a twist on it. That said, the only reason I even picked up this book was an email from Netgalley suggesting that I might enjoy it based on other recent requests. That in itself was a little weird because this book is so far removed from what I usually request on Netgalley, but nevertheless, I read it.
From the beginning, I was a little confused about where exactly this story is supposed to take place. There are constant mentions of “Midtown,” which leads me to believe that we’re in New York City, but I’m not sure if I’d make that association if I didn’t live a mere 45-minute train ride away. I kept getting thrown off by the setting, which made it really difficult for me to immerse myself in this story.
I really struggled through the first third or so of this book. Like, to the point that I had to bribe myself with other books to make it through. I think a lot of my dislike had to do with the writing style. It’s both weirdly formal and filled with grammatical errors. (This might be corrected in the final copy.) It felt old-fashioned, which fit with the time period, but also not quite right, which was a little off-putting.
Anyway, it got better as I went along and really picked up steam about halfway through. It’s unfortunate that it took that long for me to really get interested, but at least it improved. I ended up really liking most of the characters, but the one that stands out the most for me was Mal. (I always like the friend in these kinds of stories.) Even though this is a retelling and it was obvious that Ella wouldn’t end up with Mal (the blurb claims there is a love triangle, but Ella has no romantic interest in him), I was still rooting for them. What can I say, friends-to-lovers is my favorite trope.
There were certain twists on this retelling that were really interesting, most notably the change in the relationship between Ella and her stepmother and stepsisters. In the classic story of Cinderella, the stepmother and stepsisters are absolutely evil. In this retelling, they all love each other and Ella does her best to care for them after the death of her father. I’m all for positive female relationships and not pitting women against each other unnecessarily, so this was a really cool change.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers in my review, so I guess I’ll just mention that there are a few very interesting plot twists in this book that I really appreciated. Carroll clearly has a great talent for developing a plot, but one almost unforgivable thing that happens in this book is the lack of resolution. There are so many interesting mysteries in this book, and so few of them are actually resolved. I was left with no less than ten burning questions as the book wrapped up. Is there going to be another book, or am I just supposed to wonder about Crushington’s past and Ella’s father and that weird library book forever?
This book has a really high average rating, which means that it’s clearly been enjoyed by a lot of people. I am notoriously picky about continuity and cliffhangers, so it’s possible that I’m being a little too harsh in my criticisms. The book did end up much better than I had expected when I started, but I can’t say that I really loved it.
Final rating: ★★★☆☆
Thanks to Netgalley and Loveswept for the ARC!