Fairytale retellings may be all the rage, but there’s something truly special about Cinderella is Dead, which turns the tale you thought you knew into a powerful story of resistance.
Everyone knows the story of Cinderella, which is why it’s sparked so many retellings and reimaginings over the years. We’ve all read one. Probably several. But there’s something truly special about Kalynn Bayron’s Cinderella is Dead, which takes the fairytale we thought we knew and reimagines it as a powerful story of resistance.
In the kingdom of Lille, it’s been 200 years since Cinderella got her happily ever after. And in the decades that have followed, her story has evolved from an aspirational goal to a government mandate. Now, the king forces his subjects to memorize Cinderella’s story and instructs the kingdom’s women to model themselves after her behavior. This involves submitting themselves to their husbands and longing for nothing more than their own fairytale happily-ever-after.
Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball when they turn sixteen, where the men of Lille choose their favorites based on their finery and attractiveness and barter for them. Those who attend the ball for two years in a row without being chosen by a man are considered forfeit to the crown and are never seen again.
As the novel begins, sixteen-year-old Sophia is now eligible to attend the king’s ball and be chosen as a match by a potential husband. She’s terrified of this prospect, as well as not particularly into the idea of hoping a fairy godmother to provide her with magic glass slippers to catch a husband. And there’s also the fact that she’s been in love with her best friend Erin for the past three years and hates the thought of being forced to marry someone else. But same-sex relationships are forbidden in Lille, and the king’s word is the kind of law that threatens not only Sophia but her family and Erin too, should either of them resist.
As Sophia struggles to find a way to stand up for herself and the life she wants, she meets Constance, a great-granddaughter of one of Cinderella’s own sisters, who opens her eyes to the truth about who Cinderella herself was and how her story has been twisted to keep generations of women trapped in lives they never asked for.
A fast-paced and addictive story that’s full of surprising twists, you’ll be hard-pressed to put this novel down once you start reading it. Sophia is a bold, spunky heroine who refuses to make herself smaller for the benefit of someone else. An activist in a country that doesn’t even remember what the words mean anymore, her spirit and fire are both admirable and reckless, given that the king brutally punishes anyone who displays the slightest hint of disobedience.
Some readers may find the speed at which a relationship between Sophia and Constance develops a bit rushed. And to be fair, this is a valid complaint, given how much of the novel Sophia spends talking about her feelings for Erin and her heartbreak over the fact that she won’t choose her and a life of rebellion over doing what she’s told. But, for me, Constance is the sort of bold life-changing figure it’s easy enough to see Sophia falling for, thanks to her strong sense of self and comfort with her own sexuality. Unlike Erin, she’s willing to risk it all for what she wants – i.e. Sophia – and that’s something the other girl has been waiting her entire life to find.
The way that Bayron deftly weaves in elements from the original Brothers’ Grimm Cinderella tale is both sly and wonderful, and its forthright explorations of topics like sexuality, sexism, and inequality have never felt more timely. Cinderella is Dead is a novel that’s showing up precisely when its target audiences likely need it the most, and it provides a refreshing and hopeful example that resisting, persisting and fighting for the rights of all is always important, but perhaps never more so than when it feels as though your actions can’t possibly make a difference.
A standalone story, it’s nevertheless completely and fully satisfying, and the sort of novel that will make you immediately look forward to whatever its author decides to do next.
Cinderella is Dead is available now. Let us know if you’re planning to check it out this summer!