Once upon a time, there lived a girl named Cinderella. But Cinderella is dead, and in her former kingdom live two queer black girls who are about to tell her real story.
In her debut novel, Kalynn Bayron gives one of the most classic fairytales a delightfully dark and progressive twist.
Genre: YA Fantasy; Fairytale Retelling
Category: Cozy Read
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Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Pairing: Croissants + pumpkin spiced latte (because pumpkin is never out of season here at CBC!)
Two hundred years after Cinderella’s fated ball, all the young women of Mersailles know her story. They study it and do their best to live up to Cinderella’s name so they’ll be selected at the annual ball—for if they’re not selected by their third ball and eighteenth year, they are never heard from again. But Sophia isn’t interested in pleasing a husband; she wants to marry her best friend and first love, Erin. Even if it means leaving behind everything they’ve ever known.
I don’t want to be saved by some knight in shining armor. I’d like to be the one in the armor, and I’d like to be the one doing the saving.
Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan. I felt crushed for Sophia throughout the beginning of the book. Bayron hit her hard from every direction possible.
Sophia seems to be the only independent thinker in Lille. The girl she loves isn't willing to fight against the “norms”; her parents don't listen to what she wants; she finds a glimmer of hope for a peaceful life with a gay man, only to have a man of privilege step in; she loses a friend and witnesses an innocent woman pay for her friend's actions; and, finally, she is forced to flee on her own. The way every part of her is forcibly altered, disguised, repressed, or ripped away in order to meet the standards of others—to the point of no longer feeling like Sophia—is heartbreaking.
Cinderella’s story is the reason I’m being forced to go to the ball, the reason my parents have gone into debt to provide me a dress and shoes and all the pretty things I could ever need. Her story is the reason why none of the things I want for myself matter.
The Palace Approved story (and the original tale, to be honest) tells girls that if they’re good, pious, and hardworking, a fairy godmother will visit and help them gain favor, and that being like the step-family would lead them to ruin. I find it interesting that a woman gives Sophia a "potion" for luck, and while the true Fairy Godmother—named Amina in this story—reveals it is no potion, I can’t help but enjoy that a.) it kind of did work, even if it was a placebo effect, making this random woman a sort of Fairy Godmother to Sophia, and that b.) Sophia is the opposite of what she was told to be, yet Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother helped her reach her goal.
“You will hear people speak of light and dark, but in my experience you must be well versed in both to find a balance.”
I enjoyed the new roles given to the fairytale cast. As a kid, I never cared much for Cinderella’s story because she didn’t do much besides what others told her to, her Prince was boring, and her step-mother and step-sisters were unnecessarily deplorable.
Yet in Bayron’s reimagining, Cinderella and her step-family are angry women who’ve been scorned and fight back. Then there’s the Fairy Godmother and the King, and their very Baghra/Darkling vibe. I truly loved seeing heroes cast in the roles of the villains and vice versa.
However, while the characters had a lot of potential between Sophia’s fire, the way she sees things for what they are and questions the status quo; Constance being a general badass with her knives, bombs, smart mouth, and love of pockets; Luke’s honor and sweetness; and the dark twist on the Fairy Godmother . . . I am sad to say they soon fell flat for me, as did the romance and the world in general.
I didn’t not like anything about the characters or the world. They just felt a bit 2-D for me. I never felt deeply connected to anyone or entranced by the world. Though Amina might be one of the most relatable witches out there.
“I’ll need coffee, my pipe, and a moment to wake up before we start on this again.” -Amina
One of my favorite things about this book is that Sophia has no exceptional power or skill, nor is she the subject of some prophecy. She's just a girl who couldn’t live under the conditions society left her in and decided to reach for something better.
Yes, she has magical help and is joined by someone with a direct tie to the story, but I think it’s important for young readers to have heroes who are just ordinary people trying to do what they feel is right.
“The palace underestimates the resourcefulness of women forced into a dark and dangerous place.” —Constance
“I’ve never been very good at making myself small, and with Constance maybe I don’t have to. I want to knock our king off his throne, and she’ll help me do it.” —Sophia
Cinderella is Dead is a solid debut that I found highly enjoyable and would recommend to fans of retellings and dark yet cozy YA in general. Bayron’s version of Cinderella’s tale makes her a princess worthy of admiration, shines a light on feminist issues and the struggles of queer people in a society that has historically overlooked and mistreated them, and reminds us that when we are united as a people, no man or kingdom can stand in the way of justice.
“When the leader of this kingdom treats women as property, it sets an awful precedent. People think it’s okay to do the same.” – Amina
“You can keep your girls from harm. And more important, they can be allowed to keep themselves from harm [...] Look at your children, your friends, your wives, your daughters. Don't do what is right because they hold those titles. Do what is right because they are people. Make a choice to change things.” -Sophia