Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She's tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother's noble family-especially now that the family's wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It's hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane's burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family's struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane's stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire.
When her stepfather suddenly dies, leaving nothing but debts and a bereaved daughter behind, it seems to Jane that her family is destined for eternal unhappiness. But a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate...
From the handsome prince to the evil stepsister, nothing is quite as it seems in Tracy Barrett's stunning retelling of the classic Cinderella tale.
I should probably start with Jane, who is quite a good main character. She's strong, interesting, and willing to try new things. She's not overly proud, and her whole world is her family. Then Isabella, or Cinder Ella, if you prefer, shows up---beautiful, spoiled, and about to change everything. Like I said before, probably my favorite part of this book is how the author plays with our perceptions. Jane thinks Isabella is beautiful, but she doesn't know how to work like Jane and her sister and she's spoiled rotten. But (and there are a few minor spoilers here, but nothing big) Isabella, for the most part, isn't really mean. She's just been thrust into a new situation where she has to work for the first time in her life, her father just died, and she's stuck living with people she hardly knows. So while Jane is our main character, you can see how Isabella, because of the way she grew up, could also see everything that happens to her in an entirely different light. Jane could be seen as mean or ugly, just as Jane sees Isabella as spoiled and useless.
I also enjoyed watching all the characters grow. All the characters are given flaws that they have to overcome over the course of the story. I particularly liked Jane's mother, who despite living basically in poverty, still pretends and acts like they are the most noble family in the land. Don't get me wrong, I wanted Jane to yell at her sometimes---okay, a lot---but it made her a very interesting character. It also forces Jane into new situations because her mother really isn't completely aware of what's going on around her.
You can't really tell the Cinderella story without a little romance. This time, though, we get Jane's slightly less royal relationship. Will is an interesting love interest because both he and Jane have so many misunderstandings. It's a little bit like Jane's relationship with Isabella. Both Jane and Will think the other person thought they were better than she/he was. Then another misunderstanding. Then another. It could have driven me crazy, but instead it made the characters seem more real. This is Jane's first relationship, her first friendship with a boy, and the same goes for Will, and I really liked watching them grow up and grow closer.
The setting is very realistic. Yes, we are told about the mystical fairies in the forest, and while one does come into play in getting Isabella/Cinderella to the ball, this isn't a magically saturated kingdom. It reminds me a little bit of Melanie Dickerson's fairytale adaptions without the religion.
My one pet peeve was how the actual Cinderella story was handled. There's a twist in there somewhere that, while I understand why the author put it in there and it did make for a good twist, I didn't much care for. I fell like if you're going to retell a story or tell if from a different character's POV, at least leave in certain key elements that makes it the immortal story that it's become.
All in all, this is an interesting adaption of the Cinderella story. I loved Jane as a character and liked the twists the author threw into the story. I'm giving it a solid 3.5 stars. I love fairy-tale adaptions. This year is particularly good for that, and I'm glad to be able to add this one to my list.