CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 13. . . .November 25, 2011
Cinderella: Ninja Warrior. (Twisted Tales).
San Diego, CA: Silver Dolphin (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2011.
314 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.
Review by Karen Boyd.
Ignoring her instinct to help, Cinderella exploited the distraction and leaped to the right, barely grabbing onto the lowest branch of a nearby oak. She arched her back and swung hoping she could build enough momentum to loop herself up to stand so she could leap from that branch to a higher one.
Her palms scraped on the rough bark, but on the second swing she had enough height. She hoped.
She let go, did a somersault in the air, and landed. The branch bounced beneath her, but she controlled the spring and used the momentum to propel herself higher. She reached up and out toward another branch. She was going to make it.
Just as she began to sense freedom, she slammed at full force into something unseen.
As part of the "Twisted Tales" series that also includes Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer, Cinderella: Ninja Warrior presents a new way of looking at an old character. Readers will recognize the principal elements of all good Cinderella stories: the oppressed servant girl, the magical helper, the handsome prince, the ball, and the evil stepsisters and stepmother. McGowan has taken these elements and added her own: ninja fighting, black magic, and hidden identities. With these interesting changes, McGowan leads Cinderella through the familiar maze of getting to the ball, getting home again, meeting the prince, losing the prince, and finally her happy ending.
Cinderella is the daughter of a powerful wizard who died leaving behind her sought-after wand. The stepmother, believing that Cinderella knows the whereabouts of the wand, keeps her prisoner with the use of black magic. Unable to leave the grounds, or even the house, without permission, Cinderella has but one friend, Max the Cat. Max seems to intervene to give Cinderella direction at critical points in her story. When Cinderella fails to stack every glass in the house in a tower, she is forbidden to go to the magic tournament. Max, it turns out, is Cinderella's godfather, Fred. Fred is able to temporarily lift the binding spells and allow Cinderella to compete. It is to Fred that Cinderella rushes home to at midnight to prevent him from being turned back into a cat, this time permanently. It is also very predictable that Ty, the messenger, will turn out to be Tiberius, the prince, and that he will love Cinderella because she sees beyond his royal position. This being said, predictability is part of the draw to fairytales, and the reader doesn't really want things to end up differently than they do.
As a younger reader, I remember enjoying the choose-your-own adventure books. Having some control over the storyline was an interesting change, and the possibility of multiple endings allowed different re-reads of the same book. Cinderella: Ninja Warrior has a similar format but without the multiple endings. At the end of each section, the reader is offered a choice. Eight different paths lead Cinderella and Prince Ty to the same happy ending.
Cinderella: Ninja Warrior is a fast-paced, engaging read. As a character, this Cinderella is much more palatable than the passive one of traditional tales. She works hard to train herself, and she shows perseverance and intelligence. Even the stepmother and stepsisters are written with more depth and interest. But, even with these strengths, there are some things about this book that make it hard to like. McGowan leaves nothing to the reader's imagination. It is very clear from the beginning when Max exposes a book in the library on ninja training and "pawed at the pages, drawing her attention to the illustrations" that he is far more than a cat. Cinderella seems to miss these obvious indications. I also found the title a little confusing. While Cinderella does train to be a ninja, it is clearly her magical heritage that is the main driving force behind the story. These two story paths seem somehow incompatible and really unnecessary. In fact, by the end, the ninja seems to have been left behind. McGowan had an interesting premise for the story, one that didn't completely play out in the execution.
Although flawed, Cinderella, Ninja Warrior is a fun read supported by knowledge of the traditional tale. The reader interaction provides further engagement, and there are never any slow moving sections. It is just what you would expect from a book called Cinderella: Ninja Warrior, and in this case, that may be a good thing.
Karen Boyd is a doctoral candidate in language and literacy and an instructor in the Bachelor of Education program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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