Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Digital Audiobook narrated by Eden Riegel
Published by Listening Library on November 2000
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fiction, Romance, Fairy Tales, Children's
Length: 232 pages or 5 hours, 34 minutes
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How can a fairy's blessing be such a curse?
At her birth, Ella of Frell was the unfortunate recipient of a foolish fairy's gift -- the "gift" of obedience. Ella must obey any order given to her, whether it's hopping on one foot for a day and a half, or chopping off her own head! But strong-willed Ella does not tamely accept her fate. Against a bold backdrop of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella goes on a quest to break the curse -- once and for all.
In this incredible debut novel comes the richly entertaining story of Ella of Frell, who at birth was given the gift of obedience by a fairy. Ella soon realizes that this gift is little better than a curse, for how can she truly be herself if at anytime anyone can order her to hop on one foot, or cut off her hand, or betray her kingdom'and she'll have to obey? Against a bold tapestry of princes, ogres, giants, wicked stepsisters, and fairy godmothers, Ella's quest to break the curse once and for all and discover who she really is is as sharply funny as Catherine, Called Birdy and as richly poignant as Beauty, and has all the marks of a classic in the making.
I remember checking Ella Enchanted out of my local library as a kid, and having a few very distinct impressions:
- There’s a centaur named Apple. This stuck with me vividly. I have no idea why.
- Ella was much too young for Char.
As such, this was NOT my favorite little book growing up. But then as a teenager, I saw the film, knew it was nothing like the book, and loved it. I decided as an adult it needed a revisit… and I’m glad I did!
Ella is an adorable bundle of resilience and creativity. I am not a big Cinderella person in general, but Eleanor is strong and sweet, utterly independent despite her curse. She takes nothing at face value and finds the best in any situation. She likes to learn things, likes to make people laugh, and doesn’t judge.
For a cookie-cutter Prince Charming character, Char is funny and genuine. No more of these silly princes who order peoples’ heads off and pretend they are perfect. Char goes to great lengths to show he is imperfect and then he also enjoys sliding down staircases.
Other characters of particular note include Ella’s little stepsister Olive, who is perfectly horrible; Arita, noted for her kindness and gentility; Mandy the cook faeire who is sweet and caring and protective; and Sir Stephan, one of Char’s knights who is chatty and fun as well.
The world of Frell and the surrounding countryside is not overly described. A lot of this book comes from telling, as part of an oral tradition, rather than showing. For this particular book and at this reading level, I think this is an appropriate choice. It is up to the reader to imagine the forests and manor houses, but there are things within them shown in detail. Things like the fairy rug or the elf sculpture become that much more magnificent when they are given more detail than the fireplace or banister.
The main world-building focus is in the languages, the races, and fairy magic. Levine draws strong lines between Big magic and Small magic. She invents a language for gnomes and ogres. All of this adds to the story in a different way than deep descriptive phrases would, and I felt it worked very well.
As I started writing this review, I came across a blurb on Levine’s website about her process in writing this book. Paraphrasing, she said she didn’t like Cinderella and didn’t understand why she was always so good. Thus, the Obedience curse was born. Adding that obstacle to the Cinderella story and giving the prince a personality gets her major props.
This book is about Ella growing up, breaking the curse, and doing whatever it takes to save the person she loved. Told from Char’s POV, this may have been a love story… but from Ella’s, it’s so much more.
Writing / Narration
The writing of this book is simple and tell-ish but that’s okay. Things to remember: it’s a middle grade book. As intended for younger readers (I say MG is 9-15) an overabundance of descriptors and flowery scenery can be off-putting. Do we love it? Yes we do! But I know SO MANY PEOPLE who were put off books at a young age because OMG HAVE YOU SEEN HOW THICK THESE BOOKS ARE NO. I felt like the simplistic storytelling did NOT take away from the story at all, see reasons above and all over the place.
I adore the reader of this audiobook, who was perfect in every possible way.
I’m really, really, really glad I revisited this book. As a kid, I didn’t like it. One of Gail Carson Levine’s OTHER books was one of my favorites, but this one didn’t stick. Revisiting it, I found it absolutely charming. Would recommend.
ALSO THE AUDIOBOOK GUYS. Great reader. Much improved experience. Double recommend.
“It is helpful to know the proper way to behave, so one can decide whether or not to be proper.”
“If I couldn’t sleep, I could read.”
“My contrariness kept Char laughing, and his goodness kept me in love.”
“That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to put a curse on me.”
Other Books I’d Recommend
Ella Enchanted is a wonderful book for young ladies looking for the lionhearted among them. It is also a grand retelling of Cinderella. Below, I’ve listed five books that are similar in genre, similar in MC, and of a similar reading level.