Miss Katherine Daltry is on the shelf with very little hope of catching a husband as her deceased father left everything but a paltry dowry to his second wife and her daughter, Victoria. Mariana, the evil step-mother, spends her money on frivolous things for herself and Victoria and Kate only stays on because Mariana threatens to fire all of the servants that Kate grew up with. Kate herself is a glorified servant but Mariana enlists her help to masquerade as Victoria at a ball hosted by Prince Gabriel Albrech-Frederick William von Aschenberg of Warl-Marburg-Baalsfeld. Gabriel is the cousin of Victoria's fiance, Algie, and he needs to approve of the marriage if Algie is to come into some money or something. When Kate tries to get out of this arrangement Mariana reveals that Victoria and Kate are half-sisters; that Mariana was her father's mistress for years even when her mother was alive and then married her once his wife was out of the picture.
Kate is distraught to learn the truth about her father but she dose accompany Algie on his trip and her first meeting with the prince is not fortuitous. She immediately thinks that he is stuck up and a horrible human being while he is suitably unimpressed with her as she is wearing fake bosoms and a wig to disguise the fact that she is not Victoria. But the two end up spending a lot of time together and Kate comes to admire him for the way he has shouldered the responsibilities his older brother has foisted on him and how he takes care of those who depend on him. He is nervous about his coming marriage to a Russian princess and while at first his feelings for Kate are based on this he can't help but be drawn to this woman who does not want him for the prestige he can bring her. Neither think that happily ever after is possible between them, but with a little help from a godmother, it just might be.
So this story is obviously a slightly twisted version of Cinderella with an evil step-mother and step-sister, a god mother, a prince and the "servant" girl who falls in love with him. I've never been on for books featuring princes and princesses because it's always from some made-up country and just comes across as desperate and weird. However, because he wasn't in line for a thrown and really had no real connection to the other country I was able to overlook his lineage. Like Kate I admired Gabriel's commitment to those who depended on him- who consisted of a motley assortment of people his brother had deemed not godly enough to live in the mother-land. It made his need/ desire for money more important and his almost willingness to marry without love a little more understandable. And I ultimately liked the way his money issues came to be resolved- it was quite creative.
Kate was a little too self-sacrificing for me and her step-mother a little too awful to be truly believable. What made it really frustrating for me was that she never really got her comeuppance and we were never really told what had happened that the evil step-mother could get her hands on the dowry. I wanted Kate to stand up for herself more- both with Gabriel and her stepmother and it was odd to me that she did not because she was such a strong character and had genuinely heartfelt beliefs. Victoria was well done as the not quite evil step-sister who was really jus a little dumb, but the godmother was completely over the top. She was the former love of Kate's father and just far too outrageous for me to believe she would be accepted anywhere in polite society. It was like she was put in the novel purely for the reader to think "how crazy!" and laugh at her ridiculous antics.
Rating: A respectable showing by James who has done much better and much worse but did a good job in this interesting retelling of a classic fairy tale.