1.11.2012

Currently Reading: Bella at Midnight

Bella at MidnightBut I ought not to judge my betters. They are highborn folk and educated, so if they think it wise to send their little ones away and leave them in the care of strangers, then I suppose it must be the right thing to do. And indeed, now that I think upon it, if those two precious babes had been kept at home, then Prince Julian and Isabel would never have met, and all the great and miraculous things that happened thereafter would not have taken place.

Author: Diane Stanley

Synopsis: When her mother dies upon giving birth, Isabel—now hated by her father—is sent to be nursed by the woman who was also nurse to one of the king’s younger sons, Prince Julian. Bella and the prince grow up as friends, until Julian is sent to live in a formerly enemy country and Bella’s father reclaims her to spite his new wife and daughters. Through a gossiping stepsister, Bella learns of a planned war that could cost Julian’s life among many others, and by her early knowledge, only Bella stands a chance of preventing it.

Notes: It took me a little ways into this book to realize that I was reading a Cinderella retelling. It’s hardly a typical one. It contains neither white bird and tree, nor singing mice; the godmother isn’t magical, and only one of the stepsisters is wicked.

Few stories have been more often retold in modern English-speaking countries than Cinderella, however, and this variant was downright intriguing. Diane Stanley builds her story around the myth of a long-awaited hero known as the Worthy Knight. As the prince's father and elder brothers war with a neighboring kingdom, the prince and the cinder-girl share a childhood love, hoping together for the Knight's coming and the end of the wars.

Cheers to Stanley for writing the characters as religious (Catholic, as it’s set in medieval times) without either making the story message-driven or treating the religion and its practitioners as inherently wicked. The Worthy Knight is thought of as a miraculous figure, and both that myth and the tale itself focus toward peace. The two lead characters are both heroic and lovable; likewise, the younger stepsister, who is silent due to tragedy but warm of heart.

The narrative mode inspired my one bit of grumpy-stepsisterly dislike. The author chose to use first person voice with a change of perspective at every chapter, which gained her the ability to show the emotions of important characters like stepsister Alice, but cost her in character development and reader investment. Perspective shifts easily become wearing or maddening, especially in first person, where it gives the impression that twelve people are trying to tell the story at once. None of the narrators could garner enough time to become very memorable, though Bella, Julian, Alice and the godmother came off strongest.

While the ending had a moment or two of sounding a shade too obviously like an attempt at subverting gender-role paradigms, Stanley managed the final twist beautifully overall, giving the young lady fair glory without demeaning the young man for the sake of girl power. I appreciated that.

The ending itself is shamelessly happy, a pleasant resolution to a good, clean, lighthearted fairy tale for the young.

Recommendation: Read it for cheer, relaxation and ease of mind.

3 comments:

  1. I've heard of this book recently but for some reason I thought it was a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I'll have to add it to my TBR list!

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  2. Interesting sounding book. I don't know if I'd be able to stand the narration shifts. We usually have a similar reading experience, so if you were greatly bothered by them, I'm sure I would be too. Although I would appreciate the happy ending, I'm sure. :)

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  3. It's a fun read, stonesoupbooks!

    George, they were annoying... but not annoying enough to kill the whole book for me. I still enjoyed the story. And yeah, the happy ending is a nice break from all the bitterness and tragedy in literature. :)

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