At birth, Ella is cursed with the gift of obedience by a well-meaning, but foolish fairy. She is doomed to fulfil any command given to her. For the first fourteen years of her life, her mother and Mandy, the cook, manage to keep her safe from anyone who might use the curse against her. But as Ella’s fifteenth birthday approaches, her mother falls ill and dies, prompting Ella’s often-absent father to return.
Thrust into a new world of finishing schools, where anyone could stumble across her secret, Ella becomes determined to break the curse by any means.
Having heard great things about Gail Carson Levine, I’ve been meaning to read Ella Enchanted for years now. I was recently given a copy, which seemed as good an opportunity as any. The novel is probably aimed at a slightly younger age group than I usually read—early teens, rather than late teens—but it is every bit as enchanting as I had been promised.
I had doubts about a book that focuses on a girl who has to be physically obedient; after all, I’m not overfond of female characters being obedient when they don’t have to be. But, while Ella is cursed to obey, she has room for defiance and makes the most of it. Despite her affliction, she’s witty, playful, and exuberantly confident, which makes it a pleasure to be in her head.
The world Ella inhabits is a charming, magical adventure of a place. Inhabited by gnomes, elves, centaurs, and ogres, Ella’s journey is a colourful one. Based loosely on the Cinderella fairy-tale, Ella Enchanted is full of wicked step-sisters, balls, indifferent fathers, fairy godmothers, and the handsome prince— all with a little more depth than the original. Prince Char is especially well-characterised. Far from the empty trophy of the traditional Cinderella story, he is nuanced and feels real. His personality is not as vivacious as Ella’s, but he suits her. Their senses of humour match and both are able to switch between playful and serious with ease.
Despite Ella Enchanted being for a younger group, it touches on some moral themes that are complicated enough to keep older readers engaged. Sacrifice, love, and determination are all recurring threads that hold the story together.
Ella Enchanted – Gail Carson Levine