Sunday, July 01, 2007

Review: Bella at Midnight

Bella at Midnight by Diane Stanley, 2006, HarperCollins Publishers, 278 pages, Hardcover.

Bella at Midnight is a surprising find in the world of modern fiction. While Bella at Midnight includes all the basic elements of the classic Cinderella tale, such as glass slippers, a grand ball, a handsome prince, a sweet godmother, an unkind stepmother and two distant stepsisters, this is a story for older children. Touching on many themes that young people have to deal with, such as peer pressure, acceptance and love, the struggle for virtue and goodness in a world gone awry, and much more, it is sure to appeal to those who are searching for a hero, “pure of heart and most virtuous.”

Rejected by her wealthy, noble father, Bella is brought up by a good peasant family that “taught her all that is good.” Her childhood is filled with many happy and contented memories. As she is growing up, one of her playmates is the prince. Their relationship as children is really quite charming and sweet as well as totally believable and touching. Finally, when her father summons her to his estate, he has married again. His new wife has two daughters and distains Bella.

Bella’s new life lacks the love and joy of her former family and she is scorned and ridiculed. When things begin to look their worst, Bella must come to the aid of the prince or fear he must die on account of the treacherous aspirations of the king. Will Bella be able to save the prince in time?

Set in an imaginary kingdom during the Middle Ages, Bella at Midnight is a story of chivalry, honor and a “worthy knight.” While Bella at Midnight is based on the classic Cinderella tale, the heroine breaks the mold with a courageous young woman who is also gentle, kind, and good. While quite the dramatic character, she exhibits many of the same fears as anyone who is about to embark on a serious, life-threatening mission.

As in most fairy tales, there is some magic and miracles, but nothing evil. The bulk of the story rests on circumstances based on reality

Unlike some modern fiction set during this time period that delights in taking pot shots at the Catholic Church, the Church is spoken of respectfully throughout the story. It is refreshing to see the positive references to God with the “good” characters displaying a deep and abiding faith and trust in God as well as showing a well-formed conscience. People recognize that it is dishonorable to break an oath. This does not mean that the main characters are all holy and good without blemish or flaw, far from it. It is clear throughout the story that selfish motives can lead to destructive consequences.

This is a unique story in that each chapter is written from a different main character’s point of view, including Bella, Prince Julian, the stepmother, and more. This did not disrupt the flow of the story, but rather added an interesting aspect in that everyone does not see a situation from the same point of view. By doing so, we understand the motives, thoughts, regrets, and more behind key characters’ actions, giving the story a greater depth.

With intrigue, chivalry, and adventure, Bella at Midnight is a refreshing version of the Cinderella tale that late middle school and above age children will enjoy.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Yank 7/01/2007

Available from your local bookstore.

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