Cinderella is Dead, the fantasy YA debut by author Kalynn Bayron (Bloomsbury), came across my review desk earlier this year.
Here are my thoughts about this upended, fractured fairytale (review first published in Aurealis).
Cinderella is Dead
Cinderella died two hundred years ago. Now an entire society lives by the most extreme misogynistic interpretation of her legend.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia, like every girl in the land, must attend the annual ball. At this event, men choose women to marry, perhaps to replace a wife who now bores them. Girls have three chances to entice a suitor. If they do not succeed in attracting an offer of marriage, their lives are forfeit to the crown.
Slavery, exploitation, degradation, even death:
the lot of the unwed woman in this sorry kingdom.
Hardly the Happy Ever After (HEA) ending that Cinderella’s name evokes.
The story’s promising set up includes Sophia’s impossible same-sex love for her friend Erin, in a world where women are completely subservient. For their families’ sake, they must marry—the higher up the social rank, the better.
Sophia’s having none of it. When her plans to thwart the choosing ball fail, she escapes to the forest and finds two allies. Their mission is to overthrow the toxic patriarchy, and restore the rightful female heir of the kingdom.
As a concept, the retelling of Cinderella’s fairy tale by foregrounding
a dark-skinned, feisty, lesbian teenager is brilliant.
It’s a shame that the promise isn’t fully realised. The world-building is superficial, the romance thin, and the plot gapes with holes—what DID they do with that horse overnight, the one later eaten by wolves?
The writing is engaging, but the book leaves the reader wanting more.
This story could serve as an entrée to a more detailed re-rendering of Cinderella that looks harder at the many dark places hidden within the original fairy tale.
As it stands, Cinderella is Dead plays a single card trick by over-simplifying the battle between the genders. Suited to the younger end of YA, the book deserves a wide readership for its innovative take.