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.