Review: Ella and Ash

If you've been keeping up with my author mailing list, you would have seen that I recommended the book Ella and Ash by K.A. Last before I had the chance to read it. I decided to remedy that yesterday when I breezed through a copy of this short and sweet "Cinderella" retelling. The book follows the Brothers Grimm version of the story instead of the more popular Perrault version that Disney uses, so there was no Fairy Godmother. Ella spends a great deal of time at her mother's grave, where she meets the prince character prior to the ball. Like most modern "Cinderella" adaptations, this book attempts to address the prince's lack of character development that is so often criticized in older versions, but the romance still feels a little rushed. Overall, it's a fairly standard retelling of the fairy tale with a few new elements.

Ella is the same familiar girl we all know who lives with her evil stepmother and two wicked stepsisters, Anna and Drew. She frequently visits her mother's grave, which is located under a magic willow tree that powers an enchanted pendant that Ella's mother left her. The pendant grants magical rewards for good deeds, but punishes those who use it for selfish gain. In that respect, it reminds me of the Amulet of Avalor from Sofia the First, but we rarely see Ella use it, and never for anything as extravagant as Sofia. She meets her love interest, Ashwin, on one of her trips to the cemetery when he goes to mourn his brother. He falls in love with her instantly and with little explanation. While this is on point with the fairy tale, this version fails to justify giving Ella and Ash more time to get to know each other before the ball. In spite of the extra time they spend together, it doesn't feel like their romance is any less rushed than if they first met and fell in love there.

Ella and Ash follows the Brothers Grimm version of the fairy tale, but it also contains references to a few of the Disney movies. Like the Disney heroine, Cinderella is friends with the mice living in her family's manor. They help her clean up her stepsister's spilled beans in addition to the birds from the Brothers Grimm story. In another familiar scene, Ella makes her first dress out of old gowns that belonged to her mother before her stepsisters tear it to shreds. Like Disney's 2015 live-action adaptation, Ella shares a love of horses with her prince and gets to know him better while they go out riding together before they meet again at the ball. When they are reunited on the big day, Ash recognizes Ella instantly as the girl he fell in love with at the countryside even though she is wearing a mask and formalwear. He even comments that he prefers seeing her dressed down in trousers with mussy hair, which creates a more contemporary tomboy image of the otherwise feminine Cinderella character we know and love.

My favorite thing about Ella and Ash is the lore that K.A. Last incorporates into the world where it takes place. Ash first realizes that Ella was born into a higher station than she appears to be because she possesses a magical pendant. In this world, magical artifacts are passed down among wealthy or powerful families. Ash has a magic ring that forces people to tell the truth, something that pays off later. However, these magical items have limitations that take away their potential for more innovative storytelling. For instance, Ella rarely uses the pendant due to the belief that she will be cursed if she gives herself a gift from its magic, which turns out later not to be true. Ash receives a time-stopping watch takes time away from the life of its user, so Ella doesn't want him to use it. Even when he does, it isn't for anything life-threatening or urgent. If this book were a little longer, I would like to learn more about the magic of this world and see how it can directly affect pivotal moments in the story.

Ella and Ash is a traditional retelling of "Cinderella" with a few added elements. I rarely see adaptations that don't include the Fairy Godmother character, so it was refreshing in that respect. Though the fantasy world-building was impressive, I would have liked seeing more of it. If anything, the book suffered from being too short. I liked that Ella met Ash before the ball, but it would have been nice to see their romance build up gradually over the course of their meetings. Still, it was a sweet story with a gentle protagonist. If you are a fan of "Cinderella" and would like a quick read that can be completed in one sitting, this book is for you.


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