Warning: If you have not read “Just Ella” by Margaret Peterson Haddix, do not read this review unless you don’t mind spoilers!
I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “Just Ella” by Margaret Peterson Haddix! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“You’ve heard the fairy tale: a glass slipper, Prince Charming, happily ever after…
Welcome to reality: royal genealogy lessons, needlepoint, acting like “a proper lady,” and—worst of all—a prince who is not the least bit interesting, and certainly not charming.
As soon-to-be princess Ella deals with her new-found status, she comes to realize she is not “your majesty” material. But breaking off a royal engagement is no easy feat, especially when you’re crushing on another boy in the palace… For Ella to escape, it will take intelligence, determination, and spunk—and no ladylike behavior allowed.”
I’ve read and reviewed several fairytale retellings on this blog already. Beauty and the Beast, for starters. Same goes for Rumpelstiltskin. Heck, I even read a different retelling of Cinderella! So why am I going for another retelling of Cinderella?
…Because, honestly, I like fairytales. There’s always something so interesting about them—perhaps it is the magical fantasy aspect involved. Fairytales are fun, and I’ve found it interesting how people love to put their own spin on them in multiple adaptations as well. As one can tell by past reviews of fairytale adaptations I’ve read, either it’s quite good, or really bad.
Unfortunately this time around, I found this retelling underwhelming. Let me count the ways…
- The flat characters.
Other than Ella, Jed and Mary, all the rest of the characters were straight-up flat. Prince Charming himself, for starters, as well as Madame Brisset. I was quite disappointed to be honest.
- The slow plot.
Ella, despite already knowing how bad it is to be a princess and how much she complains about being forced to act stereotypically ‘lady-like’ and such, doesn’t exactly get fed up with this until literally halfway through the book. The rest of the plot was rushed as a result in trying to wrap things up, and this hugely annoyed me.
I wished I could have seen more of the ‘refugee camp’ plotline that Jed was a part of, because I feel like that got hugely shoved aside for emphasizing how bad things were living at the castle (as well as how horrible Prince Charming really was).
- The obvious, glorified sexism and abuse in the worldbuilding. Even if the main character Ella doesn’t approve of it, no one else cares.
Granted, this does take place in a medieval-fantasy world, so I’m struggling to give it some leeway, but the fact that Ella was the only noblewoman who was against being forced into doing all the stereotypical ‘feminine’ things felt a bit much. It would be much more realistic if there were at least one or two other noblewomen that agreed with Ella at least somewhat.
It also doesn’t help that Ella literally gets thrown into a dungeon for saying ‘no’ to Prince Charming despite the fact that he beat her up and kept her tied up and captive in his room before she got transferred to the dungeon. If that wasn’t bad enough for Ella, they then make it even worse—they literally threatened her to marry Prince Charming, or else they would let the jailer rape her.
This was the creepiest part of the whole book and, quite honestly, the most disgusting part to read overall.
- Ella and Jed’s romance.
I felt like it was a bit too forced in their chemistry, and I honestly think they would be just better off as friends. Unlike the relationship between Ella and the Prince, however, at least this relationship was healthy for both partners involved.
However, there are a few redeeming qualities:
- The interactions between Ella, Jed and Mary.
Those three had such wonderful bonds, and I loved their dialogue together the most (though Ella and Mary had the best dialogue together, honestly, given how I didn’t like how a romance developed between Ella and Jed).
- Ella retelling how things actually went down with how she went to the ball in the first place and got Prince Charming.
It helps to establish herself as an independent person who’s willing to do whatever she wants and whatever she can to get what she wants, and helps to show off her cleverness, wit and quick-thinking with the situations she gets stuck in.
Overall, I have to give a book 1 out of 5 stars for all the underwhelming points of the book I just pointed out, but Ella’s interactions with Jed and Mary, as well as her retelling of how she ended up getting engaged to the prince was what helped prevent this from getting 0 out of 5 stars.