Princess of Glass by Jessica Day George

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Welcome back to Fairy Tale Friday!  Princess of Glass is another book I originally read in high school and have reread a few times since.  And I loved the story of “Cinderella” as a kid, so taking another look at this book was lots of fun.  This is the second book in The Princesses of Westfalin trilogy.

On a side note, how funny is it that the dress on the cover matches the dress Cinderella is wearing in my childhood fairy tale collection?

My Rating: 4 stars

Warning: Contains spoilers

As a Retelling:

In Princess of Glass, George draws almost exclusively from the French version of “Cinderella” by Charles Perrault.  However, it is much less of a straight retelling of the tale than Princess of the Midnight Ball is of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”  This is necessary since “Cinderella” is probably the most well-known fairy tale and has been retold countless times.  If an author is going to differentiate their version, they need to put a twist on it.  Most of the major elements are still included; we have a girl of noble birth reduced to working as a maid, a magical godmother, three balls, and glass slippers.  However, the main protagonist is not the Cinderella character, Ellen/Eleanora.  Instead it is Princess Poppy, whose role is equivalent to one of the stepsisters in the original story.

Let’s start with the major difference: the villain of the story.  In most versions of the tale Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters are the villains, though in some variants it is her blood relatives.  They mistreat Cinderella, mock her, and will not allow her to attend the ball with them.  But this obviously doesn’t work if the main protagonist is in the role of the stepsister.  Instead of a stepfamily, George has Lord Richard and Lady Margaret Seadown, their daughter Marianne, and Princess Poppy, who is their cousin and guest.  Ellen is of noble birth, but her family lost their fortune, forcing her to work as a maid after her parents’ deaths.  She is employed by the Seadowns after she is dismissed from several other positions due to her inability to do the work.  Lord Richard and Lady Margaret are kind to Ellen, even offering her a dress to attend the balls.  Poppy and Marianne aren’t unkind, just increasingly frustrated with her bad attitude and horrible work.

This leaves an opening for the villain role, and George chooses to fill it with the fairy godmother, who she calls the Corley.  The fairy godmother is actually a creation of Perrault’s; versions of the tale prior to this more often utilize the spirit of Cinderella’s dead mother or an animal helper.  Using the godmother as the villain, in my opinion, is a stroke of creative genius that brings up some questions regarding Perrault’s tale.  In other variants, Cinderella has a relationship with her helper that is built up through the story.  In Perrault’s, the godmother doesn’t appear until Cinderella is crying about not attending the ball.  Where on earth did she come from?  And if she’s really so nice, why hasn’t she stepped in sooner to save this child from abuse?  The Corley, like the villain of the first book in the series, is a formerly human sorceress who makes bargains with people to fulfill her own aims.  Ellen’s whole situation, from the ruin of her father to her incapability at housework, is orchestrated by the Corley.

As in Princess of the Midnight Ball, George provides explanations for things in the original tale that otherwise don’t hold up.  In this case it is everyone’s inability to recognize Cinderella when she is at the balls and the prince’s immediate infatuation with her.  This occurs in every version of the tale; in many of them, the stepsisters even interact with Cinderella without recognizing her!  In Princess of Glass, the Corley casts a glamour over Ellen so no one will recognize her.  It also causes all the men to fall immediately in love with her and all the women to instantly hate her.  Poppy and Roger Thwaite, a childhood friend of Ellen’s and the brother of Marianne’s sweetheart, are unaffected because they are wearing protective charms.  They start investigating what Ellen is up to and try to find ways to free their friends from the spell.

If we’re going to talk about “Cinderella,” we of course have to mention the shoes.  The famous glass slippers are also a Perrault original; several prior versions, including the German and Chinese tales, involve golden slippers, some are just described as beautiful, and an Irish variant has multicolored shoes.  George uses Perrault’s glass slippers and makes them as horrifying as can be imagined.  The Corley pours molten glass on Ellen’s feet to form the shoes, and they cause her a lot of pain.  Even worse, after wearing them, her feet start turning into glass!  It’s the perfect contrast to the pretty and delicate shoes given by the good fairy godmother in the original.

George also puts a twist on the shoe fitting, another aspect of the original story that seems ridiculous outside of a fairy tale.  The only way the prince can recognize Cinderella is by her putting on the slipper despite the fact that they have spent three nights dancing and presumably talking together.  Apparently he can’t recognize her face!  Some retellings get around this by using a masked ball.  The final ball in George’s book is a masquerade, but the real challenge is caused by the Corley.  After the second ball, Ellen is unable to walk and realizes what a monster her supposed godmother is.  Poppy and the others come to her aid and come up with a plan for Poppy to impersonate her at the third ball.  After this, the Corley traps her and Ellen in the glass realm, and Prince Christian and the rest of their group go to save them.  Upon entering, everyone’s memories are confused; Christian can only remember that the slipper he has belongs to his true love.  The Corley presents him with Poppy and Ellen, dressed identically, and says the shoe will fit his true love.  But he doesn’t find out by trying the shoe on.  When he looks into Poppy’s eyes, he realizes it’s her, puts the shoe on her, and has his memories restored.

This brings me to the last big difference I want to discuss: Cinderella does not marry the prince in this book.  Ellen does set her sights on Prince Christian because the Corley wants her to marry him and she wants to get away from her life as a maid.  However, Christian is actually Poppy’s love interest and Ellen’s is Roger Thwaite.  This avoids the insta-love of the original story.  While Christian becomes infatuated with Ellen, it is only because of a spell; he doesn’t really know her at all.  His relationship with Poppy, on the other hand, builds through the whole book while they are visiting in Breton.  They start as friends and slowly fall in love.  And Ellen has a long-standing relationship with Roger due to growing up together.  The two couples become engaged at the end, as do Marianne and her sweetheart, Dickon.  This is an interesting variation of Perrault’s tale; his story ends with Cinderella marrying the prince and the forgiven stepsisters marrying great lords.  George’s ends with a stepsister character marrying the prince and Cinderella and the other stepsister marrying other noblemen.

My Thoughts:

I’m just as fond of this book as I am of the first in the series.  I love the twists George puts on the original story.  In some ways, she does a bit of deconstructing the fairy tale, such as when she points out how sketchy the godmother is.  Despite bringing attention to these problems, the story still ends with a happily ever after, which is really what I want most of all from a fairy tale retelling.

George continues with her record of creating likable protagonists.  Poppy is plucky and not quite proper; she swears, plays cards, and absolutely refuses to dance.  Yet she is kind and extremely brave.  Prince Christian is another actually nice male protagonist, and most of the humor comes from his chapters in the book.  I couldn’t help but laugh at his bewilderment over the king of Breton trying to marry him off “to the highest bidder,” as he puts it in his letter to his parents.  I also like the relationship between the two and that they save each other.  Poppy frees Christian from the love spell and Christian forces his way into the Corley’s realm to rescue Poppy.  It’s a very equal relationship, which I appreciate.

George also continues to show the effects of the first book on both a personal and political scale.  Poppy suffers from nightmares about the King Under Stone’s realm, and she refuses to dance due to her time spent there.  We are also reminded of the deaths caused by the mystery of the worn out shoes.  At one ball, a noblewoman asks Poppy why she isn’t dancing.  When Poppy replies that she just doesn’t like dancing, the woman becomes offended since her godson was one of the suitors who died.  On the larger scale, the entire reason Poppy and Christian are in Breton is the strained relationships between all the countries of Ionia.  The rulers come up with a plan to send their children off to other countries to foster international relationships.  Most are hoping to form marriage alliances as well.  We find out that there are still rumors of witchcraft surrounding the Westfalin princesses, and several characters, including the king of Breton and Christian’s father, are wary of them because of it.

The one problem I have with Princess of Glass is the climax.  It is extremely rushed, and I’m not even entirely sure how they defeated the Corley.  She attacks the group by throwing molten glass to the floor, which begins to melt.  Poppy then smashes her way through several glass walls until they are back in the Seadowns’ manor, where Rose and Galen have arrived to help.  Somehow all the bargains made with the Corley are void, and Ellen’s feet are healed.  Galen has a line about consulting with Bretoner mages to seal the Corley in her realm, and then it’s happily ever after.  The whole thing only takes a few pages.  I wish it had been drawn out longer and more detailed so I knew exactly what happened.  It would have made for a more satisfying conclusion to an otherwise excellent book.

Other Reading Recommendations:

The starred titles are ones I have read myself.  The others are ones I want to read and may end up being future Fairy Tale Friday books.  To keep the list from getting too long, I’m limiting it to four that I’ve read and four that I haven’t.

Other Retellings of “Cinderella”:

More Retellings by Jessica Day George:

About the Fairy Tale:

This review can also be found on aliteraryprincess.tumblr.com

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