Book Review: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I’d been meaning to read this book for a while now. Even though she’s too little to read yet, I’m weaving in more middle grade and young adult literature so that I can have some excellent recommendations for my daughter. I will be recommending Ella Enchanted.

The story plays off of traditional fairy tales, but Ella’s voice and personality give the tales a modern twist. Ella has been given a “gift” by a stubborn but well-intentioned fairy. Because Ella was crying as a baby, the fairy gave her the gift of obedience: she would have to obey any command given to her, ever. And we’re talking any command. As Ella reminds us, an ogre could command her to go and cook herself, and she would. When she fails to obey, she feels sick until she obeys.

The world she lives in is a world of fairy tales: we have elves, ogres, giants, fairies. We have Ella’s father seeking to remarry after her mother’s death, and of course that includes the horrible step-mother and disgusting and despicable step-sisters. We have Prince Charming—err, Prince Char, in this case. We have glass slippers, coaches that turn back to pumpkins at midnight, and the protagonist forced into being a maid at her own house.

But these fairy tale elements take a back seat to the plot, so they never became cliché or overwhelming to me. In fact, if I weren’t familiar with fairy tales, I would barely have noticed them. What takes a front seat is Ella’s desire to break the curse. She uses her brains and bravery to figure out what she needs to do to live the life she wants. Though she is in love with Char, she knows that anyone who finds out about her curse (like her evil step-sister) can use it to get to the prince (soon to be king). Out of selflessness, she breaks the prince’s heart and avoids his proposal until and unless she can find a way to break the curse.

The idea of the curse intrigued me. I found myself wondering about loopholes in the magic. For instance, could someone simply instruct Ella, “You are not to obey any commands unless you want to?” I wished that more of those loopholes would have been examined in the story. Much of that was explained away by the fairies as “big magic” versus small magic. Anything that could seriously change the world (like a spell of obedience) is “big magic,” and fairies really aren’t supposed to do it. Small things are allowed.

All in all, I enjoyed the book. The second half went by really fast. I will be recommending this one to my daughter whenever she’s old enough. I received the book for Christmas, and it was part of a boxed set, so I plan to read the other two books in the series eventually.