Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cinderella: Ninja Warrior (book) by Maureen McGowan

Cinderella: Ninja Warrior is a fairy tale retelling with “choose your own adventure” aspects.

This post contains some spoilers.


I first spotted this in a used bookstore. I considered buying it (Cinderella + ninja warrior = YAY!), but after I saw that it was a “choose your own adventure” book, I opted to get it from the library instead.

I'll get this out of the way right now: this was a huge disappointment as a “choose your own adventure” book. Despite there being eight possible routes, there was only one ending – every choice eventually led to the exact same chapter 9. Also, readers could only make choices at three points in the story.

All right, moving on. Cinderella's mother, who was a powerful wizard, died giving birth to her. Several years later, her father married another woman and promptly died, leaving Cinderella at the mercy of her stepmother and her two stepsisters, Gwendolyn and Agatha. Cinderella's stepmother is also a powerful wizard, one who desperately wants to get her hands on Cinderella's mother's wand. She keeps an eye on Cinderella, in case the girl knows where it is, and, to be safe, turns Cinderella into a prisoner. Magic keeps Cinderella trapped in the basement, except when her housekeeping skills are needed.

Cinderella doesn't plan to stay a prisoner forever. Her cat, Max, found a book for her called Way of the Warrior, and she has been secretly practicing ninja skills ever since. Her ninja training has even unlocked some of the magical ability she inherited from her mother. When Ty, a handsome royal messenger, arrives at her stepmother's doorstep with news of a royal ball, Cinderella cautiously begins to hope that she might be able to leave the house for a bit and maybe find an opportunity to escape. She becomes even more excited when she learns that there will be a magic competition. The winner will receive training from the royal wizard himself.

I did not start this book with high expectations. At most, I was hoping for something that was entertaining and a bit cheesy. That's pretty much what I got.

Cinderella was a self-taught ninja warrior who, depending on which choices you made, could stack glass goblets 15 feet high, battle multiple thieves with a broomstick, and create a protective tornado around herself just by spinning really fast. Sometimes the cheese was a little too much, even for me, but mostly I loved it.

Every choice had some aspects I liked and some I didn't. One choice determined whether Cinderella had to battle thieves or stack goblets. I preferred the one that had her battling thieves for several reasons: her awesomeness was slightly more grounded in reality (the goblet stacking severely strained my suspension of disbelief), and Agatha got a chance to stand out a little more as the weak-willed but not completely horrible stepsister. However, in that chapter, Cinderella also willingly pulled an all-nighter to finish one of the nearly impossible chores her stepmother assigned her, in the hope that she might be allowed outside for a little while as a reward. I hated that, because it was already pretty clear that Cinderella's stepmother preferred to reward excellent work with even more demands.

There were two other points in the story where readers were asked to make choices. One of those determined how the magic competition went, while the other determined how traditional the story would be (would the prince go looking for Cinderella with her glass slipper in hand, or would he have part of her locket?).

It made more sense for Cinderella to choose to enter the wandless portion of the magic competition, since she had far more practice working without a wand, but she was almost disgustingly perfect in that route. I liked that the other route showed her experiencing more difficulties. However, if you chose that route, some of the wording in a future possible choice wasn't appropriate. Just because certain routes were possible didn't mean that they actually worked 100%.

As far as the final choice went, I definitely preferred the one that led to the prince searching for Cinderella with part of her locket. One of the things I've always disliked about the Cinderella story is that the prince could potentially have ended up with anyone, as long as her feet fit in Cinderella's shoes. Who's to say that Cinderella is the only single girl with tiny feet? In the option with the glass slippers, the prince went one level of stupid further and simply accepted the first girl who presented him with the other slipper, without even asking her to try it on. I was disappointed with him, to say the least.

All in all, the story was okay, although I wish Cinderella hadn't been quite so dense. She may have had amazing ninja skills, but her reasoning abilities could have used some work. I figured out that Ty the messenger was Prince Tiberius almost immediately. I didn't expect Cinderella to figure it out that quickly, but she was hit over the head with inconsistencies in Ty's behavior and appearance often enough that Ty's confession shouldn't have come as much of a surprise.

Considering that the “choose your own adventure” aspect turned out to be fairly disappointing, I think this book would have been better had it been written like any other novel. Maybe the cheese factor would have made it a hard sell? I can't be the only one who occasionally likes cheesy reads, though.

I'm currently debating whether to try Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Cinder (book) by Marissa Meyer - If you'd like another Cinderella retelling starring an awesome Cinderella, you might want to try this. It's YA science fiction, and Cinder is a cyborg and a talented mechanic. I've written about this book.
  • The Blue Sword (book) by Robin McKinley - If you'd just like another fantasy starring an awesome heroine (no over-the-top cheese, though), you might want to try this. The main character, Harry, is kidnapped from her new home and trained to fight with a sword and ride a warhorse.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - The main character is a blond cheerleader who secretly slays vampires and other supernatural beings during her free time. Great for those looking for more unexpectedly kick-butt heroines.
  • Shrek (CGI animated movie) - When I read the part where Cinderella fought the thieves, I was reminded of the bit in this movie where Princess Fiona displayed her martial arts skills.

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