Levine's artful debut novel features a spunky heroine whose trials, all faced with admirable steadiness, give new twists to the classic Cinderella story. Ella is burdened with a curse (she cannot disobey a command), bestowed at birth as a gift from an addled fairy and this--plus the loss of her beloved mother--causes all sorts of troubles. Before her death, Ella's mother commands her daughter to keep the curse a secret--only the cook, Mandy, who is also a fairy, knows the truth. Although Mandy won't use what she calls ""big magic,"" she does give Ella a magical book that, through glimpses of other people's correspondence, lets her see what is going on in the lives of her new friend, Prince Charmont, her soon-to-be stepsisters and her greedy father. Levine ably creates tension between the good and evil characters, throwing in an assortment of ogres, elves and gnomes. Young readers will be charmed by the budding romance between Ella and her prince and touched by her crippling fear of hurting the prince via the curse. After a humorous and inventive re-enactment of Cinderella's three appearances at the royal ball, the action concludes with a slightly skewed but happy ending. Although the pace of the story flags in spots, and the author never wholly engages a suspension of disbelief (Ella's escapes often come too easily--for example, when she tames ogres who want to make a meal of her), Levine provides a winning combination of memorable characters and an alluring fantasy realm that will leave readers with hopes of future tales of Ella and Prince Char. Ages 8-12. (May)
Reviewed on: 06/02/1997 Release date: 01/01/1900 Genre: Children's
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