Cinderella: Ninja Warrior
by Maureen McGowan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Cinderella, Ninja Warrior / 978-1607102557
I really love a good fractured fairy tale, and I am very partial to the "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" phenomena that has popularized zombies and ninjas and the like in modern renditions of old classic stories. I also really like "Choose Your Own Adventure" books where the reader gets the choice to guide the story at key points along the way. I was therefore very surprised to find myself somewhat bored and uninterested in this potentially delightful book, and I'm still trying to understand why.
First of all, the "choose your own adventure" aspect here doesn't really work for me. Instead of the usual ratio of ~5 pages of text for each decision choke point, "Cinderella, Ninja Warrior" usually gives ~20 pages of text before a decision event pops up. At that point, the usual binary decision ("To do A, go to page X; to do B, go to page Y.") seems extremely simplistic considering the amount of story buildup that has occurred since the last choice. And, of course, in some sections the 'choice' doesn't exist at all -- at least one section I read ended with not a choice, but with an imperious "Go to page Z", which was presumably a destination point for other sections as well. These huge sections and simplistic choices removes the traditional feel of CYOA books, and the reader isn't going to really feel like this is a story about *them* but rather just another story about Cinderella that they are helping to 'write'. Without the personal "Choose Your OWN Adventure" aspect, I'd rather just read a novel straight through without the disjointed jumping around.
As for the "twisted fairy tale" here, the twistedness seems a littl anemic. The narrative tone is disjointed; the author seemed to be trying to keep a lighthearted tone in horrible circumstances, but the effect feels forced. Cinderella is a slave to a madwoman who physically abuses and intends to kill her, and magic utterly prevents her escape or her telling another living soul of her enslavement; one would think this situation would produce a stronger effect on Cinderella, but instead she only seems a touch frustrated about the whole situation. She also rather unwisely mouths off to her dangerous step-mother at frequent intervals so that the step-mother can have an in-text excuse to swing Cinderella around the room magically again. Either Cinderella is a glutton for punishment, or she just isn't very *smart* -- the twistedness of the situation combined with a jaunty slap-stick tone doesn't jell well to me.
A major barrier for me is that the ninja parts of the story don't feel as well integrated as, say, the zombies in PPZ. It feels like the basic Cinderella story has been retold her, but with a few "side stories" about acrobatics tacked on to justify the ninja aspects. The step-mother devises an unfair test for Cinderella and she uses ninja jumping skills to pass the test; the step-sisters go shopping and Cinderella uses ninja catching skills to grab bolts of cloth. These events don't really integrate well into the story and in my opinion, they could just have easily been replaced with something else: "Cinderella, Pirate Lass", maybe, who uses her drinking and gambling skills for the little side quests before returning to the overall plot.
I don't think "Cinderella, Ninja Warrior" is a bad book, but it's not one that held my interest. Traditionally, the CYOA format has been used to create smaller stories with a strong "replay" value, but the characters here are so hazy and act so out-of-touch with the established setting that it was difficult for me to become invested in the first read-through, let alone multiple ones. The flitting between serious torture to lighthearted acrobatics, in my opinion, really hurt the crucial tone so necessary for these PPZ-style remakes to work. I see from the other reviews that a lot of readers really loved this novel, so if you're on the fence, I'd say give it a try, but personally it just didn't float my boat.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through NetGalley.
~ Ana Mardoll
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