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.
I don’t often get on with retellings, I usually find them incredibly lacking so I went into Cinderella is Dead with both an element of trepidation and excitement as I had heard amazing things. I read this book as part of a group readalong through Tandem Collective and I’m grateful to them and Bloomsbury YA for the review copy.
I’m going to start by saying that this book sets the bar for what imaginative and totally out of the box retellings can achieve, the complete antithesis of the Cinderella fairy tale we all know well and i absolutely loved it. Although it has a historical fantasy feel it also does have quite a large element of dystopia. Citizens are forced to read only a sanctioned palace version of the Cinderella Story, which they must memorise and be able to recite on a whim. The ball has become an elaborate meat market when the women are commodities to be fawned over by the most repellent males in society. Sophia is the antithesis of this regime, she doesn’t want a man, she wants a girl and she’s going to do everything she can to break the cycle. Sophia was honestly a breath of fresh air of a character, she had the right balance of tough facade and vulnerability, combined with an intense inquisitive nature and obvious drive to meet her goal. Her pairing with Constance is wonderful to read and they make a formidable team with Constance’s scepticism and wariness the perfect antidote to Sophia’s sometimes naive and trusting approach. They make this story wonderful, with some brilliant side characters too.
At it’s heart though, Cinderella is Dead feels like an ode against misogyny and the patriarchy. I felt it likened to the suffragette movement as the women and girls want to live without fear and feel equality, rather than facing a life subjected to domestic violence and being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. It’s often a tough read because of those issues but they are dealt with head on and with brutal clarity. The castle, a sign of dreams come true, feels like a looming oppressive force to remind subjects to keep in line and what ultimately awaits them if they don’t. It gets very dark at times too, with scenes of necromancy and vivid depiction of the dead. On the flip side though we have the stirrings of an uprising, little flickers of dissent and moments of light when women speak up, even if they know the consequence.
There is a HUGE twist that I did not see coming at all, plenty of others in the read along felt that way too and it honestly turns the story on it’s head, I was left in shock at the revelation which drives the story into chaos – and I loved it! However whilst the wonderfully crafted world and lead up to the finale felt well paced and full of great story telling, the ending felt so rushed, I’m all for pace in the closing stages but this felt like I blinked and it was over. This was a shame as such care had been taken with how the story had come together up to that point. It’s a great finale, I just wished it had lasted as long as some of the lead up.
Cinderella is Dead was a fantastic, easy and pacy read full of both important and strong topics and great fantasy, I loved it!