Title: Cinderella is Dead
Author: Kalynn Bayron
Genre: YA, Retelling
Published: July 7th, 2020 (Bloomsbury YA)
Synopsis: It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.
Everyone knows the story of Cinderella, but to the people of Lille, it is their history, and in the two hundred years since Cinderella’s death, the fairytale has warped their daily life into something unrecognizable. Young girls are now required to attend a yearly ball to be chosen as a bride by one of the men in the kingdom. The catch – if they are not chosen within three years, they disappear and are never heard from again. This year, Sophia is of age to attend the ball, but she would rather marry her best friend Erin. A turn of events leads to her fleeing the ball and taking refuge in Cinderella’s mausoleum, where she meets Constance, the last remaining descendant of Cinderella’s stepsisters. Constance has been on the run her entire life from the king’s soldiers, and together they come up with a plan to overthrow King Manford and end his tyrannical rule and oppression of the Lille’s women. But first, they must first uncover the true story of Cinderella, which holds more shocking revelations than they ever dreamed of.
I’m a huge fan of fairytale retellings, particularly of Cinderella, which was never my favourite, but even I didn’t expect something quite so dark. Few books discuss the aftermath of the happily ever after – or in this case, what has been portrayed as one – and this narrative, which started out as a retelling, grew into a fantasy novel of its own. The world-building is minimal, which was as expected, since we’re probably supposed to assume things from the story we know, but it would have been nice to see beyond Lille’s borders and how, if at all, Cinderella’s story affected their life. Magic, while acknowledged as real, has turned into a thing of legend, unseen since Cinderella’s time and people seem to spend their time hoping for the fairy godmother to appear in time to bless them with luck for the Annual Ball. Outside of that, the general populace is largely resigned to their fate under the unfair rules and restrictions imposed by the king. Between the tone of the book, which can be rather juvenile at times, and the largely straightforward plot, this could easily work as a younger YA/advanced middle grade read.
Sophia was an interesting character and a well written one, brave, persistent and quite stubborn too. She wants to take down the evil king and by extension the oppressive patriarchy in the kingdom of course, however, it was hard to pinpoint her driving force apart from the fact that she doesn’t like how things are which could apply to many of the women we meet in the story. Things also did seem to come too easily to her, wandering a castle she has never been in and stumbling across the exact rooms she needs to be in, for example. I feel like we just didn’t get to know her in enough depth to really connect with her. More character development would have been lovely for several of the others, Constance and Erin in particular. King Manford made for an excellent villain though, and for once, didn’t just make an appearance in time to be defeated, which I really appreciated.
The secret behind the king’s power was fairly obvious pretty early into the story and that reveal really didn’t need to be dragged out so much. The plot twist with the fairy godmother on the other hand, was certainly out of the blue, and was a good addition to the story, even if, in my opinion, the consequences of the reveal were resolved too quickly. I would say the same for the pacing of the story, which was great, until the end, where the action played out over just three chapters or so, not proportional to the buildup or the time they spent travelling and planning.
I really enjoyed this unique spin on Cinderella, and it was a fast-paced, easy read that really makes you think twice about fairytales. While it does have a few minor issues common to debut novels, it is a very strong narrative that raises some very important points, from history being rewritten by the victors, to standing up for what you believe in despite being afraid and more. I’m looking forward to seeing more books from this author in the future. Highly recommended!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!