Ella is transgender. She’s known since she was young; being a woman just fit better. She was happier in skirts than trousers, but that was before her stepmother moved in. Eleanor can’t stand her, and after Ella’s father passes she’s forced to revert to Cole, a lump of a son. She cooks, she cleans, and she tolerates being called the wrong name for the sake of a roof over her head. Where else can she go?
An opportunity to attend the royal ball transforms Ella’s life. For the first time, strangers see a woman when she walks down the stairs. While Princess Lizabetta invited Cole to the ball, she doesn’t blink an eye when Cinderella is the one who shows. The princess is elegant, bold, and everything Ella never knew she wanted. For a moment she glimpses a world that can accept her, and she holds on tight.
She should have known it wouldn’t last. Dumped by her wicked stepmother on the farthest edge of the kingdom, Ella must find a way to let go of the princess and the beautiful life they shared for an hour. She’ll never find her way back. But it’s hard to forget the greatest night of her life when every rose she plants is a reminder.
Overall Rating: 7/10 stars
Matt’s Review: 3/5 Stars
This story was…okay.
It’s a Cinderella retelling (obviously…) and it does go fairly far off the beaten track, which is nice. While I like queer fairytale retellings, I don’t like them when they just substitute a Disney character for another gender, or make out the character to have been trans all along, and then tell me the exact same story. This did go into new territory, which I was grateful for and really interested to see. (Especially the focus on the roses, which hit a definite soft spot for me.) I would definitely say push through the unnecessary foreword to get to the story proper, because it’s better than the foreword led me to believe.
That said, there’s a pretty weird logical hiccup in the plot. I know, I know, it’s a fairy story, of course it’s not logical, but…this felt off even by the world it creates. And that problem is that it didn’t seem to know how trans women are received within its own framework.
Ella keeps it secret, her evil stepmother thought it was disgusting, and the villains frame it in the sense of her tricking the princess into thinking she’s a woman, and so on and so forth. So essentially this sets it up to run parallel to how idiots think of trans women in our world. (Now all of this is clearly framed as being projected from the bad guys, so I’m not knocking the book at all for this background, just to be clear.)
When they realise Ella is invited to the ball too, the sisters decide to put her in a dress and some garish makeup, laughing at her. This still fits the ‘trans women are a joke’ projection from the bad guys. But then her stepmother comes out with this bizarre line of not embarrassing the family.
But…that doesn’t work for the mentality we’ve been shown. We’ve been shown that trans women are appalling, according to the stepmother. So surely letting Ella present herself as female to this ball of dignitaries would, in the stepmother’s mind, be incredibly embarrassing?
I was left completely confused as to why they let her go under those circumstances. I was expecting Ella to find the dress, sadly resign herself to either not being able to go or having to go pretending to be a man, and then finding it later in her room courtesy of the fairy godmother figure. And that would have worked fine—she goes in secret, has her dance, and then gets caught and we catch up to the plot that happened. The framing of her being allowed to go as herself when her stepmother thinks trans women are terrible just felt like a very contradictory decision to me.
Unfortunately because it is such a short retelling, this contradiction does overshadow quite a chunk of the book. I think it would have worked better, and flowed a lot better overall, if there was more to it? If this had been fleshed out into a longer novella, or even a full novel? As it is, the ending seemed a little abrupt and that confusion over how trans people fit into this fairytale world left me too muddled to completely appreciate the sweetness of the rest of it.
Maria’s Review: 4/5 Stars
First things first, I really love this cover. Really, really love.
I was also really excited for this book because queer fairytale re-tellings are my JAM.
Technically this strayed far away from the original, but then also not really. It was lovely, although it hurts my heart a bit that the title of the book is also the insult and slur Ella’s stepsisters use to degrade and hurt her. It’s not like Ella ever really… “reclaims” the nickname or makes her piece with it, so that just didn’t sit right. She’s Ella. Just Ella.
Speaking about her, I adored her as a character and I was rooting for her so hard though all of the story. For which you need a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. It’s a fairy tale with a very interesting fae instead of a fairy godmother, some lovely twists and some angst and heartbreak.
I really liked the writing, because it fits with the fairy tale character of the story most of the time, but not always – especially not when Ella meets the side-character Lily (who I kinda loved too). In general I was a big fan of the supporting cast in this book. What can I say, strong girls supporting other girls with everything they got just really does it for me.
I do have to admit the ending was a little too abrupt for my tastes. It felt like the pacing was a little off there, and while I can easily accept magic a s the reason for a lot of things happening, it did get a bit too much of an all around saver for everything in the end. Even though it is only a novella, I just would’ve wanted a tiny bit more of… everything.
Generally, this story is anything but realistic, but it still warmed my heart because in the end, even with all the unbelievable things happening you’d never buy or not stumble over in another story worked for me here. Did I tilt my head a time or two, or thought “Uhm. That seems… weird.”? Yep, definitely. Still really liked it. If you’re into that kinda thing the way I am, this is definitely a recommended read for you.