Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for this ARC. All thoughts and opinions are mine.
Synopsis: It's 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl's display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella's mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all--and in the process, they learn that there's more to Cinderella's story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they've been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them. (Amazon)
I've never been a fan of the Cinderella fairytale. It's a lovely fairytale, don't get me wrong. And I certainly appreciate it. But it's not one of my favorites. “Why then would you read this book?” I too would ask. Well, it's a retelling, right? Retellings build upon the skeleton of the original and from there, the writer can go anywhere, do anything—create something new on that foundation. It's why I enjoy reading retellings. Cinderella Is Dead went past the early stages of the story we all know, and gave us a picture of the setting 200 years after Cinderella dies.
My biggest disappointment with this novel is how shallow it is as far as development. There is not enough depth to the world-building, or to characters, or to their actions. We know the bare minimum so that we can follow along with the storytelling. After Cinderella dies, Prince Charming angrily decides that women will stop having any rights because Cinderella did not love him as he saw fit, men will control them, and he gets his pick of the lot whenever he wants. These rules follow every king hereafter. In short, he's a spoiled brat and that's his drive. And by his decrees (because in this world it seems that most men are shaped with the same cloth that shaped Prince Charming) almost every male that our lead comes across (with the exception of just three of them) are all horrible human beings who just want to inflict pain on women, use them, and discard them as they see fit.
That line never sits right with me whenever an author uses it in a story.
Sophia, our lead... Well, I still don't know her. I know that she doesn't want to marry a man just because her king demands it (which is valid) and that she wants to get out of this situation. She's headstrong, and stubborn, and most of the time does whatever she wants without regard for anyone else, or much thought to her actions. That's all that I know about her. I neither liked her, nor disliked her, except to find her instant lust/love towards Constance to be one-dimensional and unbelievable. Sophia swears that she's in love with Erin, her sweetheart, and yet after just one night in Constance's presence, she starts thinking to herself
Her body, backlit by the flames, is like a vision. She is tall and strong. She's got her sleeves pushed up; a wide, jagged scar runs over the muscles of her upper arm. They flex as she stokes the flames. I imagine how they might feel wrapped around me, and I wonder if she can tell how enthralled I am with her.
You just met this girl. How can you be enthralled by someone that you know nothing about? Sophia's feelings towards Constance's and Constance's immediate reciprocation and constant flirting (see what I did there?) was hammered into me from their first meeting. And during moments when I wanted to be focused on the story, it would rear its awkward head up again and detract from the bit of plot that I wanted to follow.
It felt forced.
After a few chapters that dragged, and some planning by the characters to figure out how to beat the backwards system in the world of this novel, we finally come to the end of the story. It involved a lot of Sophia (who has run away from the “kingdom” so that she's not killed) waltzing right back into the palace, without any guard recognizing that this is the girl they're chasing after. Once that's done, and the king most obviously sees her among the other girls, the two engage in fairly poor comebacks against each other until she gets locked in a pantry-sized room to await his evil deeds against her.
I wanted to like the ending, because it was to be the saving grace at this point. But it was as bland as I found most of the rest of the story and ended in a predicable manner. King Manford doesn't really have a reason to be the way that he is, there's no point to his villainous nature, and I felt like the author kept pulling twists and turns and reveals from her sleeve at random to help make sense of things but they didn't add up. Sure, Sophia and Constance get what they want at the close, but we expect it. Nothing that came before it left a lasting impression.
Despite everything that I didn't enjoy, the twist given to Amina's role—our “fairy godmother”—was great. No, she does not have much development either, but I'm glad that her character was different from what we expected. I like that it drew from a darker source and gave her a slightly more sinister veneer. Who she is to Manford came out of nowhere, but I suppose it works. And while the king's history before Cinderella is flimsy at best, the way that he keeps himself going was intriguing, and definitely fits his role of antagonist, even if it's something that has been done many times past.
The writing touched the mere surface of the story and a lot more life could have been imbued into every aspect of it. It unfortunately fell very short from my expectations.