Note: Some may recall that Michelle Davidson Argyle of The Literary Lab has stopped by ISLF from time to time. Please know that in an attempt to maintain my reviewer objectivity that I secured a copy of her debut novella from my own resources. No freebies or review copies were involved.
Conventional wisdom holds that there are two ways to reimagine old folk tales. The first is to wrench the plot out of its traditional setting while retaining its original concerns. (Consider how Steven Spielberg placed Pinocchio in a high-tech dystopia with his film A.I.). The second uses an opposite approach -- maintain the surroundings while shifting the thematic focus. ("Snow, Glass, Apples," Neil Gaiman's grisly take on the story of Snow White, is a prime example.) One can usually tell which path an author will take within the first few pages. But not with Cinders, a fantasy novella that reworks Cinderella. Author Michelle Davidson Argyle charts a middle course by combining both approaches.
Kiss the prince, claim the crown and dwell in marital bliss for the rest of your days -- that was how Christina thought everything was supposed to end. It hasn't. Though Eolande (that magical being calling herself Christina's fairy godmother) has charmed her into the kingdom's castle and the marriage bed of Rowland, its future ruler, life isn't perfect. New troubles seem to stalk her every day, ones worse than being whipped for slight infractions or forced to work fingers to the bone. Grumblings about a revolt filter through the palace halls. Eolande has gotten thrown in jail, accused of murder. And the queen seems to view the new princess with more than a little suspicion. Of greater concern than all of these to Christina are the nightly dreams, dreams of a mysterious stranger that make her question whether love gained through magic is any love at all.
Argyle adheres to and separates from her source material by beginning the action right where Cinderella ends and moving the genre from fable to literary fantasy. The surroundings feel familiar and yet fresh, the subject matter shared and still separate. The Grimm and Disney emphases of rising from poverty to royalty and gaining true love meet with political intrigues and ethical issues of enchantment. It's a compelling mix that Argyle handles with aplomb. The only place where Cinders reallly stumbles is in a tendency to tell what characters' emotional states are rather than showing them. However, this is more than balanced with an ending that's ... Well, let's not spoil it. Suffice it say that the climax and closing are both shocking and subtle, a conclusion that may smolder in your mind for days to come.
(Picture: CC 2009 by vissago)