Bella at Midnight

Sorry about the lack of posts, guys; Rebecca and I were both doing NaNoWriMo and all other writing sort of fell by the wayside. But we’re back!

Bella at Midnight By Diane Stanley [LibrarythingAmazon]

Despite the periodic wars that ravage her country, Bella’s childhood has been an idyllic one – raised by a loving, comfortable peasant family and bosom friends with Prince Julian. That is, until she discovers that she is actually the daughter of a knight, who sent her away when her mother died in childbirth, but who now wants her back. Bella is miserable with her cruel father and distant stepmother, and her misery increases when she hears of a threat to both Prince Julian’s life and the country’s tenuous peace with the neighboring kingdom. Now, armed only with a prophetic ring and her own courage, she must travel to a foreign land to save her friend, and hopefully bring peace to both realms.

Add another one to the Cinderella Revamps Collection. Though Bella’s early childhood friendship with Prince Julian reminded me of Ella Enchanted and the cover jacket blurb rather misleadingly mentions three enchanted gifts from her godmother (her godmother provides her with an entirely non-magical wardrobe, including the requisite glass slippers, but the magic ring comes from a stepsister), I wasn’t positive that it was in fact Cinderella until Bella found herself in a house with a hostile stepmother and a pair of stepsisters. Aside from the stepfamily and the slippers, however, this is a pretty far departure from the classic story.

Mostly this comes from the somewhat bewildering setting. Bella and the other characters live in the country of Moranmoor, which has been at war with their neighbor Brutanna since before living memory. However, despite living in fictional kingdoms, the characters refer to places that exist in the real world. They are also all devoutly Christian, and the book in fact revolves around a Worthy Knight that God will someday send to stop the fighting. It’s a rather confusing juxtaposition; trying to figure out exactly what and where these countries are was fairly distracting.

My main problem, however, was the lack of focus on Bella. The significant majority of the book, all of which is written in first person, is not from her point of view, but from the perspective of those around her: her foster mother and brother, Julian, her aunt/godmother, her stepmother and stepsisters. Some of that works well: the chapters from the point of view of Bella’s stepfamily show why they’re so distant and unkind to her (her stepmother has recently lost her husband and her fortune and was forced to marry Bella’s father for his money, and the entire stepfamily is both grieving and suffering from wounded pride), and humanize the Cinderella story’s usual villains in a Gregory Maguire-esque fashion. I wound up really feeling for Bella’s stepmother, and liking the younger of her stepsisters a lot. But the chapters from her foster family’s and Julian’s points of view are not about the foster family and Julian, they’re about Bella, and how very very wonderful she is. This accomplishes two things: it creates a distancing effect between Bella and the reader, since we spend so much more time perceiving her through the lens of other people’s feelings towards her than we spend in her head; and it makes Bella frankly rather annoying, especially for an older reader. Kids might like to read about girls who the narrative insists are beautiful and special and sprinkle fairy dust wherever they go (the popularity of Nancy Drew and the Sweet Valley High books prove that), but around when you hit the teen years you start looking for characters with flaws that make them more relatable. (I’m speaking in broad strokes here. God knows I still love Nancy Drew.)

And I understand that the climax made it sort of necessary to be able to get out of Bella’s headspace. The reason is massively spoilery, so I’ll cut it. show

As I mentioned before, I really enjoyed the take on Bella’s stepfamily. I liked her foster family and her stepmother, and the way Bella was forced to confront her prejudices about Brutanna in order to make way for peace. But mostly this book was a great big yawn to me. It’s not great, it’s not terrible – it’s completely middle-of-the-road, and so it gets three cupcakes.

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    One Response to “Bella at Midnight”

    1. Hannah says:

      I kinda liked this book. what I didn’t like was how she switched the charecters view points so many times. I thought thought the book could’ve been done without that.

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