Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
From Goodreads: 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.
First up, thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for an ARC of this book!
Please note, I’m including a CW here for domestic abuse.
Several weeks before I requested this book, I started hearing whispers about it, hyping it up. The premise- a subverted fairy tale retelling, is exactly the kind of YA trope I live for, so I was excited when I received a copy of the book. I also got to buddy read it with some incredible people, so that made it even better.
Firstly, I want to draw attention to the stunning cover. My E-ARC didn’t have the cover image attached, but again I’ve seen it floating around on Twitter and it’s so pretty! I love how the thorns are contrasted so well against the silk dress. And I love that the cover isn’t whitewashed or is a silhouette. We need more covers that feature Black and POC protagonists!
Straight from the get-go, I felt a strong sense of fury. Not at the book itself, which is really well-written, but at the horrible, misogynistic world, Bayron has created. I can’t imagine how awful it must be for these characters going through this situation, and I especially felt bad for the main character, Sophia, because she’s not interested in men, so her chances of finding a good suitor are nil. It was awful to see the allegory here, knowing that historically LGBT people have had to settle for a heterosexual relationship. I also hated HATED the whole ball, and how all the girls have to just hope they get someone who doesn’t abuse them. The whole subverted fairy tale with a feminist theme reminded me quite strongly of Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, which is cool. I liked Sophia from the start, but her defiance in the face of all this crap she has to deal with, really made me admire her. She’s sometimes a little naive, which irked me a bit, but some of it makes sense.
Erin is an absolute pain in the ass. Sometimes I felt sorry for her– the women in this book go through a lot!- but mostly I was just annoyed by her. I don’t want to go into too much info here because of spoilers, but I will say that I just wanted Sophia to leave her and move on with her life, because Erin just seems to lead Sophia on a lot. Again, I think the whole ball and suitors thing makes it difficult, but blaming people who are looking out for you is not cool.
The plot is interesting. There’s a couple of twists that are somewhat predictable, but there’s also a few that should keep most people guessing. We had a lot of fun on my group chat trying to guess what would happen next. The addition of Constance and some of the later characters also threw some interesting curve balls in there. And I spent a lot of time speculating what the true story with Cinderella was. It felt so odd that people were being told that she wanted these awful balls to take place.
Mostly though, I was there for the awesome feminist themes throughout the book, and the brilliant characters.
The ending is a little… too clean? I get that Cinderella is Dead is a retelling, but it also just didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, and it felt a bit too perfect and neatly tied off. Especially considering how the world was like before Sophia runs away, it just didn’t sit quite right with me. I really loved this book, but I think this, more than anything, is why I didn’t give the book full marks.
Overall, I’m giving Cinderella is Dead a 9/10 stars. I thought the world was really well-written, even if the sexism made me angry (which was the intention!) and I thought the characters were complex and interesting. And I found the twists were refreshing and kept me on my toes. But I thought the ending was a little sugar-sweet and simplified some of the messages and themes of the book.
Has anyone else read this book already or plans to? What do you all think of it? Let me know in the comment section down below ❤