Hi everyone! Sorry for disappearing again! I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs recently and the thought of doing a recommendations post or something of the like has been really quite draining, so apologies for the lack of posts! But today I’m back with a review of one of our February books for the Sapphic Stories Bookclub – Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron.
Title: Cinderella Is Dead
Author: Kalynn Bayron
Genre: Fantasy, LGBT, Young Adult
Synopsis: It’s 200 years since Cinderella found her prince, but the fairytale is over.
Sophia knows the story though, off by heart. Because every girl has to recite it daily, from when she’s tiny until the night she’s sent to the royal ball for choosing. And every girl knows that she has only one chance. For the lives of those not chosen by a man at the ball . are forfeit.
But Sophia doesn’t want to be chosen – she’s in love with her best friend, Erin, and hates the idea of being traded like cattle. And when Sophia’s night at the ball goes horribly wrong, she must run for her life. Alone and terrified, she finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s tomb. And there she meets someone who will show her that she has the power to remake her world.
Cinderella Is Dead is a book that I’ve been really intrigued by for a long time – I preordered it as soon as I heard about it (the preorder incentive pin is sitting so prettily on my shelf!) and have been dying to read this sapphic retelling ever since! Recently, though, I’ve been seeing quite a few mixed reviews, mostly saying that the characters lacked depth or that YA fantasy just doesn’t seem to be for them anymore, which is completely understandable, but I have to disagree as I found this book to be such a fun read!
Now you might think, Althea, you rated this book three stars, that doesn’t sound like it’d be a lot of fun to me, and yeah, I get it, for a lot of people a three star rating is a pretty ‘meh’ rating but for me, a three stars is always positive (see my rating system if you want to know more)! Starting off with what I enjoyed, we have the premise of the book. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a Cinderella retelling, but it’s quite unlike any retelling I’ve ever read before. Most, if not all, of the retellings I’ve read, be they sapphic or otherwise, take the original story, add new characters and have some sort of play on the original plot, but the fact that Kalynn Bayron took the original Cinderella story, kept it in there, and added a really fun twist to it was really refreshing and I loved that she made the choice to do that! The book is set two hundred years after Cinderella’s death and in her memory every girl must attend a ball once she reaches the age of sixteen to be chosen to become a man’s spouse. If she is not chosen after her third attendance at the ball then she becomes forfeit. This does sound like your pretty standard YA fantasy plotline, but with the story of Cinderella weaved in, I just felt that it added a whole other layer that made the story all that much better!
I also absolutely loved Kalynn Bayron’s worldbuilding and it’s truly evident that she knows how to write a lush and mysterious setting. Right from the get go I found myself fully immersed in her French-inspired fantasy setting and I could picture our main character’s surroundings so vividly.
The characters were also a highlight of the book for me. I loved our main character Sophia, both her strength and her drive to follow her heart, and her empathy and kindness. I loved just how fiercely she loved other girls and just how far she was willing to go to be free and to give others their freedom too. The love interest was also a complete joy and I loved their sunshine/grumpy dynamic together! I also really enjoyed the side characters and even the antagonists – I loved that none of the characters were either completely good or completely evil, every character was nuanced and there were a lot of morally grey characters mixed in.
Now, onto what lead me to drop two stars – the pacing. This book is of relatively average length for a YA fantasy, but compared to many I’ve read, so much of this felt rushed. It may just be down to perhaps over-editing, but I felt like we zoomed from place to place and from scene to scene far too quickly for my liking. I also felt that so many of the conflicts were either resolved too quickly or the antagonist(s) didn’t really have any real motives for their actions, or at least they weren’t explained well enough. All in all I think that this book could have definitely done with maybe an extra 100 pages or so in there, just so that there could have been more development of these points.
Overall, this book, as I’ve said probably a thousand times throughout this review, was so much fun. As someone who has really struggled with reading, and feeling engaged in, fantasy novels over the past year or so, this was absolutely perfect, and I don’t want to jinx anything but I think that it might have been just what I needed to get back into the genre! I definitely recommend picking this one up if you’re looking for a fast-paced, fun (there I go again!) read with a really feminist plot!