Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon

A fairytale retelling with a thought-provoking twist and a strong style can be brilliant, but one that is illogical and poorly-crafted seems like a good reason to forgo the whole genre.

In Melissa Lemon’s debut novel Cinder and Ella, the title characters are the middle sisters of four, left hopeless when their father disappears and their mother loses her mind to grief. Gentle Cinder caves to the unreasonable demands of the eldest sister and the bratty tantrums of the youngest, and Ella is angry with Cinder for martyring herself. When Cinder leaves to work in the castle of the king, she and her bitter sister become entangled in the corruption of the court and the legendary magic of the trees.

The villain, Prince Monticello, is responsible for the loss of Cinder and Ella’s father, as well as everything bad that happens in the kingdom ever. He watches the suffering of his people with a spyglass, always trying to injure his enemies with maximum cruelty. Monticello’s simplicity is unfortunately indicative of a trend throughout the book: fairytale characters with fairytale dimensionality.

The story dutifully describes all the meandering paths the girls take to find their father and defeat his captor, but too much detail is devoted to journeying. The narration alternates between Cinder and Ella, with the occasional switch to Monticello or the knight Tanner, clumsy romantic interest extraordinaire. All sorts of crises happen to these people—imprisonments, escapes, chases, duels—but I was not emotionally invested in their futures at all. They were not complex or developed enough to hold my sympathy or interest.

I was especially disappointed by the system of magic in Cinder and Ella. It defied my attempts to make sense of it. I don’t mind mysterious magic, but I despise magic written recklessly. Magic must have rules, so its inconsistent application in Cinder and Ella left me confused.

The prose has its finer moments. Thoughtful phrases or imaginative imagery emerge every once in a while, standing out from otherwise mediocre or ungainly descriptions of action and emotion. Cinder and Ella has that extremely straightforward quality of a fairytale, which can be effective in a short story but is frustrating in a novel. Everything was spelled out, even emotions I could easily  infer from a character’s words. The dialogue is often stiff, and the humor is weak. There are some truly hilarious parts that might have made me laugh out loud, but the delivery is lacking.

From a bland beginning to a contrived ending, Cinder and Ella is simply neither interesting nor well-written. Fantasy and romance fans—here’s one to skip.


Bridget is a high school senior who is delighted to be writing (a favorite activity) about books (a favorite subject). Her favorite genre is fantasy, but she has been known to have an eclectic taste. Her other loves are music, dancing, and history.


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