First off, amazing, striking cover (both of them). Fantastic, attention-grabbing title. And I loved the overarching story. But just because a tale is more diverse and queer doesn’t mean I can forgive it when the execution isn’t quite right …
Title: Cinderella is Dead
Author: Kalynn Bayron
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: 7th July 2020
Rating: 3.5 stars
First off, look at these two covers. They are fierce and beautiful and I love them. I’m not sure why the women represented on the hardback and paperback covers are different, though.
The story goes … Cinderella met her prince charming and lived happily ever after. Until she died in seclusion and her legacy went on in the form of an annual ball, where the women of Lille were paraded around in front of the men, before being picked and married off into uncertainty. Some women were raped, some were abused and a small number were happy. And so it went for the two hundred years since Cinderella’s death. Her fairytale, the one we know well today, is now doctrine for how women should behave. The borders are closed. And cruel King rules over everything.
I’ve read quite a few fairytale retellings – some are a little clumsy and some really work. And in theory, this one should have worked. Stories like Cinderella have been held up for centuries as examples of how women should behave – polite, meek and kind to a fault. That it is then used as rule and regulation by the Palace in this story isn’t impossible. It gives men the right to choose, the right to own and the right to make the rules. It’s a little heavy-handed, but it works in this setting.
Likewise, the super-important question of what happens if a woman doesn’t feel attracted to men in that kind of society. What choice does she have? (In essence, none). However, does that rule then apply to men? (In this case – apparently so? Despite their rights to do everything, here a queer man is, in effect, a girl – something that I’m not sure really holds).
But, and this is touched on a little, surely there are then organisations and mobilisations. It’s clear not everyone is happy with this extreme status quo. So it’s time for some patriarchy smashing. But where is everyone? Where is the underground resistance? For most of this novel, it’s basically made up of two characters.
The main character, Sophia, is regularly criticising men and the monarchy out loud. She is often warned to be quiet, as she doesn’t know who is listening. But she is so outspoken that she must have been heard by now – where is her punishment? Or, since she hasn’t been punished, where are the like-minded people? The secret meetings? The story ends up nearly falling into the trap of the protagonist being the only one to see the flaws in this broken society.
After Sophia escapes from the ball, which apparently no one else has ever done, the King sends troops out to capture her. I’m not convinced he ever really saw her during the ball, though. Yet by the end of the novel, he is obsessed with possessing Sophia. (A lot like the king in Girls of Paper and Fire). And likewise, she becomes obsessed with ending him – (again, a lot like GoPaF) even though Sophia might not be the best qualified for this …
Another issue I had was the YA insta-romance. Sophia has always been in love with Erin, but her head is immediately turned when someone new arrives on the scene. Fair enough that Sophia is attracted to her, but if it was written as girl sees attractive boy and forgets about her old love whilst obsessing over him, that wouldn’t stand. So I don’t see why we need that approach in queer relationships either.
Finally, the ending. Although it was the required result, it’s all wrapped up too neatly. Especially the Epilogue. There would be a lot more repercussions for those actions …
I really enjoyed reading this, though. It was quick, and snappy, and presented interesting issues in a terrifying way. This book definitely doesn’t pull its punches. And the fairy godmother character was excellent – she was definitely well thought-through and added to an excellent twist. I also loved how the Cinderella story, from this book, had been corrupted and essentially turned into a religious text – that was a lot of fun to explore and meant that we were dealing with a post-Cinderella world, rather than just another retelling.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.