Thank you to Netgalley and Kalynn Bayron for giving me the opportunity to read an advance copy of Cinderella is Dead in exchange for an honest review.
With such a strong title to a novel, it’s easy to predict that an author would struggle to maintain the sense of danger and mystery that is immediately evoked. However, as Kalynn Bayron opens on the revelation that Cinderella has been dead for 200 years and introduces us to two young women hiding from those who are sure to kill them, I think it is safe to say that she has the drama side of things covered!
The kingdom of Mersaille was once ruled by none other than Prince Charming and Cinderella. After her untimely death, Cinderella’s tale is held in almost biblical stature for generations, with young girls reciting it each night in preparation for their own chance to attend an annual ball once they turn 16 and wishing for their own fairy godmother to grant their happily ever after.
However, as the reader enters the town of Lille 200 years later, we witness that life within the kingdom is far from that of a fairytale. The balls that act as a tribute to Cinderella are mandatory meat markets with lecherous “suitors”, domestic violence and the suppression of women is commonplace and the ruler, Prince Manford, thrives on the power, fear and violence.
The reader witnesses this abysmal society through Bayron’s use of a first-person perspective: that of our protagonist Sophia. Sophia is everything a modern protagonist should be: she questions the unjust world around her and, having just turned 16 is preparing to attend her first ball, not with excitement, but with trepidation.
Sophia reveals to the reader that a girl only has three chances to be chosen by a suitor at the ball, after that she is considered forfeit, taken away from her family in disgrace and placed either into a workhouse or service. Men, however, are under no such conditions: they can attend balls when they wish and can choose a number of girls if they want to. Many girls’ singular hope is to be chosen by a good man at the ball, one who will not beat her, perhaps even one who will take them away from Lille. This is not enough for Sophia, she wants more for her life and, as she says herself:
“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.”
At the beginning of the book, Sophia’s main gripe with the society she lives in is that it will not allow her to be with Erin, the girl she loves. As the book continues, the underlying theme of the rights and treatment of women strengthens, along with Sophia, but the first few pages at least are centered on the teenage relationship between Sophia and Erin.
What I absolutely adored about Bayron’s writing style here is the complete lack of shock or awe in this relationship: it is mentioned right from the start and at no point in this novel does Sophia “come out”, there is simply no need. All those around Sophia, who know her and care for her, are aware of her feelings for Erin and, although Sophia is occasionally referred to as “different”, the author chooses to abolish any unnecessary labels within her novel.
Unfortunately, Bayron does not have an easy ride in store for Sophia: reeling from a firm separation from Erin, Sophia is cast a lifeline, an “easy way out” in the form of a local boy who is also “different”. Sadly, this option is quickly and dramatically ripped away from her: forcing her to find her strength pretty damn quickly as she begins a life as an outlaw.
Along her path, Sophia meets two strong female characters: Constance and Amina. Although, wildly different, both these women play a significant role in Sophia’s self-discovery.
Amina is as far from the traditional fairy godmother image as you can get and, although she feels guilt for her previous actions, it takes meeting Sophia for her to recognise her previous denial and to help change the way of the world. Amina is a protector to Sophia right to the end, in her own unique way.
Constance, what can we say about Constance? I defy anyone to read this book and not fall in love with this girl! Constance possesses the strength that Sophia does not yet recognise within herself; she is fiery and, as a descendant of an “evil stepsister”, leads a resistance movement to uncover and publicise the truth about the real tale of Cinderella. Despite, technically saving Sophia towards the beginning of the story, Constance is not Sophia’s saviour: nor is Sophia the saviour; however, the power that they find together is monumental.
Constance is a complete juxtaposition to Erin: whereas Erin accepts the rules of society out of fear for herself and her family, Constance actively rebels against them. It is almost as if they represent the paths Sophia has to choose from. Nevertheless, along their adventure, Sophia and Constance’s relationship strengthens into love. This is no fairytale, love at first sight deal though! If anything, the slow-burning romance between the two made it more believable and I really appreciated that Sophia didn’t just rebound due to Erin’s choices: she had been burnt and she was still unsure of her own feelings never mind anyone else’s.
At the hands of Bayron, Sophia experiences heartbreak, friendship, murder, love and conspiracy: she is on the brink of danger too many times to count and is constantly second guessing who she can trust. Yet, it is clear that the author adores her main character: Sophia’s journey to realise that she is enough is incredible and the strength that she finds within herself is inspirational. Sophia is also surrounded by a cast of strong female characters: there are no Prince Charming’s in this novel that’s for sure!
I wasn’t that far into this book when I decided I need to read more of Kalynn Bayron’s work. I love how there are no chapters in this novel, we are taken on this relentless journey with Sophia: the reader is not given a chance to stop and take stock, reflect or rest until it is all over and this creates the tensest experience. Even we don’t know who to trust towards the end!
‘Cinderella is Dead’ is powerful, thought-provoking and is constantly leaving the reader guessing. On a basic level the novel deals with violence, love, politics and a little bit of necromancy thrown in there for good measure. However, the intelligent writing as well as the massive plot twist and the subjects of LGBTQ love, women’s rights and domestic violence lifts this novel from that basic level into, what I predict could be a bestseller.