Book Review: Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

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 . . .

From the blurb, Cinderella Is Dead

CW for the book: abusive relationships, domestic violence

I love a fairytale retelling: the revisiting of the stories I grew up with when they have been skilfully dismantled and reimagined. I went into Cinderella Is Dead with high hopes and was not disappointed.

Two hundred years after Cinderella’s death, the world left behind as her ‘legacy’ is cruel, its women completely disempowered, traded as property and their lives forfeit if they are not chosen by a man at the annual ball. But Sophia knows she wants more than this life, including the freedom to love who she loves without fear of consequence.

Although simply told, there were some interesting layers to this story. Beneath the core story of a queer Black girl setting out to smash the patriarchy (which I am SO here for!), Cinderella Is Dead shows the dangerous power of rewritten histories and how the stories of the past, manipulated by those in power, create structures of oppression within society – sometimes without us even noticing.

The story is a little light on world building but what is there is vivid. The violence of the world is visceral and Bayron doesn’t shy away from depicting the horrors the girls face under the King’s laws. I thought the use of the Cinderella story as a propaganda tool was powerful and posed an interesting challenge both to how much we trust the taught version our history and the power of the stories we are told as children to shape our lives. The depiction of Sophia’s discomfort with the story she’s been taught to believe alongside her shock at realising it is all a lie shows how deeply cultural norms can embed themselves in our consciousness – even when we know there is something wrong with them. I would have like to have known more about Constance’s family and those in the resistance living outside the law, as we only really get glimpses of this. It would have added an extra dimension to the story to know more about those characters who grew up outside of the King’s grip.

My favourite part of this story was the brilliant reimagining of the Fairy Godmother. I loved the ambiguity of her character and how this was drawn out even to the end. I don’t want to elaborate too much on this as it’s best enjoyed in the telling of the story itself! I really enjoyed both Sophia and Constance’s characters and thought the contrasting elements of their personalities worked really well together. However, I felt that the romance element could have been more convincing. Sophia and Constance’s relationship is sweet but it felt a bit too ‘insta love’ for my liking, especially after the apparent depth of Sophia’s attachment to Erin at the beginning of the book. Finally, King Manford felt a little caricatured, and there were some secondary characters, such as Luke, that I was expecting to play a bigger role and would have liked to see more developed.

All in all, I really enjoyed Cinderella Is Dead. It was a quick and easy read and an original retelling of a well known classic. The representation was strong and, even though there were some elements I would have liked to see developed further, it was a fun and thought-provoking read.

What are some fairytale retellings you love? Let me know in the comments!

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