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Literature / Just Ella

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Just Ella is a feminist "sequel" to the classic fairy tale Cinderella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, with a twist on the traditional Happily Ever After ending.

Princess Cynthiana Eleanora — better known as Ella, or "Cinderella" by many — has everything she could ever hope for. She's finally away from her abusive stepfamily, she's engaged to a handsome prince, and is living the luxurious life of royalty. Then why does she feel so unhappy? Her life is becoming an endless round of boring tutors, needlepoint, simpering ladies-in-waiting, and too many rules to count. Even the time spent with her prince is dull. The only person she feels she can open up to is Jed, a tutor who actually treats her like a person. But even he can't be there for her when she tries to take matters into her own hands and almost literally becomes a prisoner in her own home...

Has a spin-off of sorts in the form of Palace of Mirrors, which is set in the neighboring kingdom of Suala. This story focuses on Cecilia, a princess in hiding as a peasant girl in order to protect her while a different girl, Desmia, pretends to be the princess in her stead. Once there is an attempt on her life, she decides to go to the castle with her best friend Harper to reclaim her title...only to find out the story is much different then she originally believed. Ella shows up near the end and ends up helping them save the day.

Just Ella provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adipose Rex: Subverted as this applies to Lord Reston, not the actual king.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Madame Bisset comes off as being simply a cross between an Obstructive Bureaucrat, Beleaguered Assistant and Grand Dame with hints of The Puppetmaster thrown in for good measure. When Ella tries to break up with the Prince, she drugs her, locks her in the dungeon, starves her, and offers an ultimatum: go through with the marriage or she lets her jailer Quog have his way with her, revealing her to be a Corrupt Bureaucrat and Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Played straight with Ella; also discussed, and averted with Prince Charming and most of the royal family.
  • Birds of a Feather: In contrast to the rest of the court Jed and Ella are both intelligent, hard-working people who want to make a difference in the world and feel trapped as aristocrats.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Ella's stepmother Lucille, who charmed her father into marrying her by pretending to share his enthusiasm for books and showed her true colors only after they were wed. It's implied that he mostly went on long expeditions to collect rare books so he could be away from her.
  • Bookworm: Jed, Ella and Ella's father.
  • The Brainless Beauty: Charming, the Royal Family, most of the nobles. Averted with Ella.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Early on in the story, Madame Bisset instructs Ella that if certain protocol is breached, she is expected to fake a fainting spell and have the guards remove the one responsible. Guess what Ella does when Madame Bisset threatens to kick her out of the palace when she tries to watch the jousting tournament?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ella, and Mary gets this quite a bit, but only when she's around Ella since she doesn't want to risk losing her job.
  • Disappeared Dad: Ella's father is killed crossing the Sualan border while gathering books for his enormous collection. Lucille's reaction to this? Laugh her head off and tell Ella, who had only just found out, to get to work.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: At first it seems like all the trouble Ella went through to get to the ball led to the Happily Ever After she's supposedly living right now... until she tries to break off her engagement with her stupid, shallow Prince, gets thrown in the dungeon with the choice of either going through with the wedding or being left to the "mercy" of her guard, and decides to dig her way out through the hole that serves as a toilet. From there she travels over the border through the war-torn country of Suala, fighting off starvation and trying to avoid soldiers who might be looking for her to reach Jed at the refugee camp.
  • Fairy Godmother: Averted, as it turns out she never existed.
  • Fat Bastard: Subverted; Lord Reston is merely another Bureaucrat, and Ella likens him to a pig stuffed in a fancy suit, but he doesn't do anything outright malicious, though he does suffer a bad stroke and dies near the story's end, forcing Jed to take up his position.
  • Ironic Echo: While being whisked away in a coach from her stepmother's home to the palace, Ella overhears an old crone saying, "Now there's someone who will live happily ever after." Looking back at what she dealt with in the palace and at the camp, she realizes that that prediction has come true, albeit in a way that wasn't intended; happily ever after can mean something different to a lot of people.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Jed holds himself back from confessing his feelings for Ella because she's in love with the Prince. She later breaks things off on her own.
  • I Will Wait for You: Discussed by the aristocratic women early in the book, who expect to stay at home while men to go on adventures. Both Jed and Ella invoke this later on, in a more equal way. Jed promises to wait six months to propose so Ella can work out her feelings. Later he's returns to the palace to help end the war, so Ella - having now fallen in love with him - waits for him to return. Though in this case she's busy running the refugee camp rather than sitting around until he comes back.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Corimunde and Griselda.
  • Karma Houdini: Madame Bisset arranges for the Prince to marry one of Ella's stepsisters at the last minute and the people of the kingdom are none the wiser about the switch. Madame Bisset gets to keep her position, the Prince is never punished for murdering Quog, and Lucille, Corimunde and Griselda get to live the life at the palace they always dreamed of.
  • Leave the Two Lovebirds Alone: Subverted initially. Ella and Charming's meetings are supervised by a dry old chaperone to make sure nothing happens. Unfortunately, this makes their time together much less romantic than Ella hopes. She later learns that they could have sent him away the whole time, but by then she doesn't even love the Prince. On thinking about it, Ella realizes that if they had done that in the first place, she would have learned that she didn't love him much sooner.
  • Lessons in Sophistication: Ella, a merchant's daughter used to living as a maid-of-all-work, is subjected to these after being whisked away by Prince Charming at the ball. She eventually runs away because her new life is so stifling.
  • Love at First Sight: Ella and Prince Charming. Subverted when Ella realizes it was only infatuation and that Prince Charming was only marrying her for her looks.
  • The Makeover: One that Ella reveals to be done all on her own as opposed to the story floating around about a fairy godmother taking pity on her.
  • Marry for Love: Ella's plan since she was a little girl, and why she breaks off her engagement with the Prince and goes for Jed instead.
  • Maybe Ever After: Ella and Jed. By the end of the book, they both want to get married but are stuck in different countries for an indeterminate amount of time and Ella hasn't even been able to let Jed know she's going accept his previous proposal. They both separately decide to wait until they can be together. Palace of Mirrors reveals that they're engaged, and still crazy about each other, and they finally get married in the third book, Palace of Lies.
  • Of Corset Hurts: On the day of the tournament Ella is forced to wear a stiff mechanical version that makes breathing nearly impossible. Her ladies-in-waiting do the same since it's so fashionable now that she's wearing it.invoked
  • Parental Favoritism: Lucille adores Corimunde and Griselda, obviously. She uses her charms on Ella's father to make sure Ella bears the brunt of the household work while they do nothing.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Ella's forced to don a number of these, each more uncomfortable than the last.
  • Rags to Riches: ...and back to rags again.
  • Rebellious Princess: Ella quickly establishes herself as one.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: The Prince, who really knows next to nothing about running the kingdom and doesn't even care that much about the people. He only makes it a point to do something about his subjects' starvation only after being egged on by Ella (even though he just orders the scraps from each evening meal to be thrown out of the palace gates). Mary even says he couldn't put on his shoes one at a time if someone wasn't there to tell him to. And it turns out he only picked Ella for his bride because she was the most beautiful girl in the room; the ball itself was nothing more than a beauty contest to keep his lineage as attractive as possible. To be fair though, it wasn't his idea. Tying up Ella until he can find someone to tell him what to do when she tries to end their engagement was, however.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Prince Charming, the future king and heir to the kingdom versus Jed, a tutor who is aristocratic but has no real fortune of his on and ends up running a refugee camp. Ella unequivocally goes with Jed.
  • Royal Brat: The Prince, as if the description above hasn't given it away already. When Ella tries to break off their engagement, he throws a temper tantrum complete with stamping and shouting "No! No! No!", and even tearing off strips of her gown and tying her up with it.
  • Servile Snarker: Mary gets this in quite a bit, but only after she and Ella bond, since she's horrified of losing her job.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Upon arriving at the ball, Ella finds a beautiful girl wearing a dress similar to hers. She realizes that she's looking at herself in a mirror; it's the first time she's ever done so since entering her forced servitude.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Ella, whose looks cause men to fall for her and bother her, and is what landed her in the palace in the first place. It's also implied this is why Lucille hates her, since her own daughters are far from beauties.
    • There's also a few times where her looks helped her, such as the herald who tells her she can go to the ball and the coachman who helps her, as people seem to go out of their way to help her for reasons she doesn't understand.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jed later admits to falling in love with Ella after their first meeting, but he believes that she really was in love with the Prince (at the time she believed that also). When he finally gets the chance to form a refugee camp in Suala, he leaves without saying goodbye to her because he knows that the temptation to ask her to join him and have his heart broken would be too great. By then, however, Ella's not only started to realize she may have feelings for Jed, but she's thrown in the dungeon for trying to break her engagement to the prince. After she and Jed reunite in the camp he proposes to her on the spot, but by now she's not so keen on the idea of using marriage as a way to escape your problems. Jed agrees to wait six months before asking again, but before the deadline his father dies and he's forced to report back to the palace to take up his position. It's by this time Ella finally admits to herself that she is in love with him.
  • Talker and Doer: Jed and Ella. Ella observes that Jed is often too concerned with his ideas to take action; notably, his preoccupation thinking and talking about the refugee camp means he doesn't do anything to change things from inside the palace while Ella does. Meanwhile, Ella acknowledges she acts before thinking things through and had she talked things through with Jed, she wouldn't have ended up in the palace dungeon, or got engaged to Prince Charming in the first place. After some Character Development they both balance out a bit, with Jed running the refugee camp and staying as an adviser to end the war, while Ella takes time to think through her feelings for Jed rather than leaping into marriage again.
  • Take a Third Option: Forced between a loveless marriage or getting raped in the dungeon by your captor? Why not dig your way out through the cell's craphole?
  • This Is Reality: When Ella learns from Jed the fairytale based on her adventure to the ball that was fed to the public, she proceeds to tell him what really happened (after she gets herself to stop laughing first).
  • Took a Level in Badass: Not only does Ella manage to get to the ball on her own and in style as a way of flipping off her abusive stepfamily, but she also survives the psychological tortures of Madame Bisset in the castle dungeon and eventually escapes, breaks into her old home and steals from her stepfamily, survives her journey to Jed's refugee camp solely on her wits AND proves that she can hold her own there even without Jed intervening, leading him to put her in charge when he's forced to return to the palace.
  • Uptown Girl: Ella to Jed at the beginning. Although she was born a commoner, her new position as Princess puts her far out of reach of his court bureaucrat status. After she runs away, it becomes irrelevant.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Subverted, as the deadline has nothing to do with the dress and coach disappearing, but it's the only time a friendly coachman Ella meets on the way to the ball can drop her off near her house so she doesn't have to walk all the way. It's also at the stroke of midnight that Ella finally breaks free from the dungeon.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Lucille. Ella refers to her and her daughters as "the Step-Evils".