In the interest of full disclosure, this is a book I received free from the author (along with its sequel, which I will not be reading/reviewing for this blog). He was kind enough to send a number of copies of both books to those of us participating in CBR this year, and that is wonderful, and I thank him for his generosity. I hope more authors continue to do the same, regardless of how we review their works, because it's such a lovely way to get your material out there and read. And I imagine other people who happily accepted this offer may have more positive feedback than I'm about to. It's hard to be less than glowing about a book someone was nice enough to send you for free, but being anything other than honest defeats the purpose of writing these reviews in the first place.
Everything about this book suggested it would be a hit for me. A twist on the classic fairy tale of Cinderella? Good. Historical fiction from the Napoleonic era? Good. Mixing magic with history? Good. (If you don't get the Friends reference I'm making right now, I'm sad for you.) The real hang up for me, I think, is the final element of this - the diary format (if you kept up with the Friends reference, it was the beef in my English Trifle). Now, I've read a number of diaries over the years, both real and fictional. Go Ask Alice was one of the defining books of my adolescence, and The Diary Of Anne Frank should be a touchstone of everyone's literary background. But in this case, the format lost me. Let me back up a minute.
This diary is the story of Cinderella (actually named Sophia, which is name dropped a few times with very little impact). She's married to the prince, who in this case is George IV, though that is never explicitly stated. As this is clearly set in the English monarchy, and Napoleon is battling in Egypt at its start, the timeline is easy to locate in history. Anyway. Her marriage is a disaster - the prince cheats on her, she can't seem to produce an heir, and she's miserable and wants to go to Paris. Her diary starts as being addressed to her Fairy Godmother, although this changes later in a way I'll abstain from mentioning to avoid spoilers. She gets the chance to go to France, and from there the story spirals wildly out of control.
Back to the format issue for me. Diaries are hard, y'all. Have you ever kept one and attempted to read it years later? It will make you want to go back in time and smack the shit out of yourself, I promise you. We are all incredibly self indulgent, naive, and melodramatic when we think no one is watching, and Cinderella is no exception. In addition, Vitale does an excellent job of making the language appropriate to the time period. While I appreciate this attention to detail, it makes it an incredible pain in the ass to read. I spent so much time annoyed with how petulant Cinderella was, how incapable of doing anything herself, that it made me really not want to root for her. I have no idea if asking the same question a hundred times was a fixture of the time or just a flaw in the character, but that got on my nerves. Lady, you've already asked that question 6 times. In this entry. Move on. But the way she is written is authentic to women of that period, so I get where Vitale is coming from - it just doesn't work for me.
The other problem is that I feel like it wants to be a grand fantasy novel, and it really...isn't? I think the limitations of a journal make it hard to embrace a world where you need, honestly, to explain how witches and fairies fit into the history you are also tying into. We go from "this is a normal world, and maybe there's some fantastical elements to it" to "OMG THE FAE ARE GOING TO MAKE WAR HAPPEN EVERYWHERE" and the transition isn't particularly smooth. I'm also not really sure why The Silver Fox seems to think that sowing the seeds of war is going to somehow get him what he wants (again, avoiding spoilers - but what he wants is a very specific thing).
I wanted to like this book, I really did. And I didn't hate it - the writing is good, if stylistically different than what works for me. Some of the ideas working there are really good ones. It just didn't quite hit the mark for me. I'll be skipping its sequel, and wishing Ron Vitale well on his future endeavors!