is another reimagining of the Cinderella story, where all the fairy godmother, magical coaches and talking mice are reassigned to gossip in the court because the truth of the matter is nobody would believe that Cinders-Ella had fixed a dress, ran to the ball and done it all on her own.
It's a promising idea that becomes bogged down with relentless and two-dimensional antifeminist messages from everyone at court. Instead of creating an interesting take on how happily ever after may not be as easy as it seems, it becomes a terrible trap because everyone aside from Ella and her two friends is either so amazingly vapid (Charming, the ladies in waiting), so terribly concerned with tradition (Lord Reston), or just needlessly cruel (the stepmother and Madame). The rhetoric of a woman's place would be completely valid for the time period and a great exploration of independence versus societal expectations but the way Haddix pulls it off makes it sound like an anvil landing in every narrative paragraph.
Things go from bad to worse when Ella realizes she is not in love with the prince and tells him so. He is so intellectually stunted that he freaks out and ties her up, then tells his keepers because nobody has ever told him no before. Their answer is to trap her in a dungeon with a serial rapist for a prison keeper, hoping to wear her down so she'll see a loveless captive life with Charming as a better alternative. The logical inconsistency in their minds to break, torture and terrify a future queen is really unsettling tonally, especially for a book marketed to eleven and up readers.
Lastly, Haddix shoots her own heavily didactic moral in the foot about self-sufficiency when she escapes the kingdom to work in a refugee camp, not because she identified with the plight of the homeless, not because she discovered her own dream and finds contentment as a doctor, but because she believes working for the dream that defined Jed--the tutor turned love interest--was enough for her. The entire agency of her character is crippled right at the end, leaving a half-hearted limping finish that makes it feel as if Haddix wants to prove happily ever after shouldn't be believed by one last kick in the teeth to deny you anything except a unsatisfying "deal with it" ending.
There is enough done fairly well not to merit a one star review, the narration is didactic but not incomprehensible. There are moments of a well crafted scenes when Haddix lets the prose be, especially the backstory between Ella and her father. But for anyone who loves Cindrella stories told in a different way I would recommend sticking with Gail Carson Levine's "Ella Enchanted" or Malinda Lo's "Ash." Just Ella
is just not good enough of a contender.