I thoroughly enjoyed this fairy tale by Diane Stanley. Some might call it a Cinderella story; it does include glass slippers, a godmother (although she is not a fairy), a mean stepmother, and two stepsisters, but even with all of those elements it departs far from the European Cinderella tale I grew up with.
Bella is born to a knight. Her mother dies in childbirth so Bella is sent away to a wetnurse and virtually forgotten by her arrogant father. She grows up as a peasant befriended by Prince Julian who was nursed by the same woman. She didn't know that her peasant family is actually a foster-family until her father reclaims her at the age of thirteen. In truth, her father doesn't care about her, but after he remarrys, he begins to wonder if Bella looks like her mother so he sends for her. He feels no guilt about sending her away and not providing her with the upbringing a knight's daughter should have. Bella's stepmother and her daughters have already suffered great losses. They were forced into Bella's father's home after they lost everything and he was cruel. The stepmother finds Bella's presence the ultimate insult and does nothing to welcome her into the family. Bella is constantly criticized and left to sleep in the kitchen. When Bella hears the king is attempting to begin a war and Prince Julian's life is in danger, she sets out to do what she can to save him.
The prince does not fall in love with Bella at a ball, there is no pumpkin carriage, and Julian doesn't try a glass slipper on every maiden. I absolutely loved this story for its originality. The author included enough of a background story to help me understand why the stepmother was so mean and why Bella's godmother wasn't more involved in her life.
I was also particularly interested in the way this story dealt with the miraculous. In the beginning of the story, most of the wondrous things that happened are explained as magic, just as they are in most fairy tales. There's a magic emerald ring that can show you the person you most want to see, and Bella inherits and magic comforting touch. As the story proceeds, the bigger miracles at the end of the book aren't explained as magic, they are explained as works of God. I found this unusual for a fairy tale because everything could have easily been explained as magic. None of the other reviews that I've read have even mentioned the strong religious under tone of this book. Because God has to be left out of school, God is also being left out of most books so this book stood out to me for more than just its original plot.
I was enthralled from the beginning of this book and I think that you will be too.