Dance: Cinderella Retold by Demelza Carlton

This mashup of classic fairytales will have our Mulan-like female lead throwing on Cinderella’s shoes to dance with her Prince. Except “dance” in this regard is more of a euphemism for fighting, and she isn’t afraid to knock the Prince on his a**!

What’s it About? 

A dutiful daughter. A prince forced to find a bride. If the shoe fits…

Once upon a time…

When the Emperor’s army comes recruiting, Mai signs up, seeing it as the perfect escape from her stepmother and a lifetime of drudgery. Armed with her mother’s armour and a pair of magic shoes, Mai marches off to war…only to find herself sharing a tent with the General’s arrogant nephew, Prince Yi.

The best swordsman in the Empire, Prince Yi wants to make war, not love, but the Emperor insists this will be Yi’s last campaign before he must marry. Prince Yi has never met his match…until now.

Can one woman win the war and the prince’s heart?

First Impressions

I wouldn’t so much as categorize this romance as “Cinderella Retold”, but rather as a mashup between two classic fairytales: Mulan and Cinderella. As a matter of fact, when this novel first started I couldn’t help but wonder why the title focused more on labeling this as a Cinderella tale, when the vast majority of the premise revolves around our female lead, Mai, going off to war under the guise of being her father’s son rather than his daughter. Other than the fact she had a mean stepmother and two half-sisters (who are absent from the majority of the book), it sort of felt like a scene-for-scene remake of Mulan instead. It isn’t until the conclusion of the tale that we truly see the Cinderella story come to fruition, complete with a ball, fairy godmother, and a handsome Prince carrying around a lost shoe in the hopes of finding it’s rightful owner. I typically love any kind of romance which features a retelling of a fairytale, but I’ll admit this one got off to a bit of a slow start, as it was almost too much alike when compared to Mulan that I wondered how this novel would set itself apart from the original we all know and love. 

It’s when Mai finally sneaks off to war that this novel comes into its own, distinguishing itself from the tales that came before in a way that will keep you turning the page. For example, I loved the twist that Mai’s evil stepmother is a witch who actually helps conceal Mai’s identity when she goes off to war by enacting an illusion spell to make her appear and sound as a man to everyone else. Then the fact that Mai showed up to training already a complete and total badass who could take down even the legendary Prince of Swords, made me cheer along with every soldier she bested, as well as with every cunning military strategy she employed to lead her troops to victory. It’s when the battle is over that we see the Cinderella storyline come to the forefront, as Mai needs the help of her fairy godmother-like character to remove the cloaking spell concealing her true identity in the hopes of winning the Prince’s heart in her natural womanly form. We are constantly wondering if Mai will ever be able to break the spell which her stepmother cast upon her, or if she’s doomed to spend the rest of her life as a soldier, unable to tell the man she loves how she wants to spend the rest of her life by his side. 

The Elephant in the Room aka the Man in the Tent

One aspect of this novel which is merely brushed upon rather than explored with any full depth was the fact that Prince Yi does start to feel an emotional connection, and possibly even desire for his comrade, Yeong Mao (aka our heroine in disguise, Mai). This was a key element that I really wish had been highlighted more prominently, as we see Prince Yi’s feelings for Mao (Mai), evolve from subordinate to friend, and even to something more. Their friendship is undeniable, but as they spend more time fighting and living together within the same tent, Prince Yi begins to have passionate dreams where he’s getting physical with an unknown woman, only to awake in shock upon seeing the visage of his best friend Mao take the place of the woman. While he admits he might be starting to feel something for this man, it’s sort of glossed over until after Mai turns back into a woman, and Prince Yi wonders if this fighting temptress he’s just met was the true person hiding within his best friend all along. He latches onto this concept as a way of thinking that would be the perfect outcome, almost by saying that then he wouldn’t have to confront the fact he was developing feelings of desire for another man. The end of the novel feels fairly rushed to get to the happily ever after between this man and woman, rather than spending any time discussing how the quintessential bond developed between them when they were both men. 

Series: Romance a Medieval Fairytale, book 2. These books are quick reads, so I might give a few more a try, but they haven’t knocked my socks off quite yet. If anything I think the cover art has been more enchanting than the books themselves. 

Final Impressions: The high point of this book was in the middle section, as it distinguished itself from the fairytales it was trying to emulate by bringing in unique twists and turns to the classic story lines we’re all familiar with. Unfortunately, things kind of started and ended on a low note, as there were too many similarities with the original tales to hold interest. The ending especially felt particularly rushed, and even confusing, as Prince Yi essentially threatens Mai to engage with him in a fight to prove she was the secret identity of his best friend all along. The supplemental characters were also pushed too much into the background in this retelling, as the fairy godmother is present for barely one scene before disappearing entirely, and Mai’s father comes across as rather heartless to his daughter and new family. Mai’s wicked witchy stepmother was definitely an intriguing character, but even her presence could have been highlighted more to really have a villainous counterpoint to our leading lovebirds. Overall, just ok. 

Smut Level: We start to see the stirrings of desire through Prince Yi’s dreams when Mai is still disguised as the manly soldier Mao. However, there aren’t any physical sexual acts until the very final scene of the book. If you’re looking for steam, stick it out until the very end, but if you’re looking to keep this read as a fade-to-black scenario then you can easily stop before the last hoorah. 

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Lost Plot Press. 234 Pages.