Oh, Contrived! How saddened I am to see how large a role you played in this book. Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron turned out to be a strong fizzle if I ever saw one. And it’s a massive shame, really, because this book had too promising of a start to fall apart just as all the action begins. Once my most anticipated book of the year, it kind of broke my heart when I added Cinderella is Dead to my ‘wasted potential’ shelf on Goodreads.
Now, don’t let that turn you away, though. While I say that this book is contrived and flop-ish, Cinderella is Dead is actually pretty brilliant on an ideas level. The plot? Phenomenal. The setup? Brilliant. The execution? Well, here’s where we get a little off. What I mean to say is, Cinderella is Dead began so beautifully. It was kind of exceptional. Had the same level of writing quality existed throughout the course of the entire novel, this would have easily been a five star read for me.
So, what happened?
The Cinderella of this story is actually not the protagonist, rather we meet young Sophia who lives in a world where an extremely patriarchal society controls the lives of women entirely. They are worth little more than property, bought at a ball under the guise of getting their very own “Cinderella” stories. After which they are no longer their father’s property, but rather they belong to their new husbands. Sophia, who has been in love with her best friend Erin for the majority of her sixteen years, wants nothing to do with the ceremony that will give her away to whichever man chooses her.
Sounds brilliant, right?
And it was. The novel quickly introduces readers to this disturbing world of Sophia’s. Everywhere she goes the Cinderella story is touted in a biblical manner. Girls regularly conform themselves to the patriarchal laws of the land, piously living their lives in the hope that a fairy godmother will visit her and bestow the same glamor Cinderella once had bestowed upon her. The ugly stepsisters are to be feared. Men are to be worshipped and desired. At the age of sixteen, all women are expected to attend a royal ball in which they will be chosen by one of the men of their society. Some of these men have even forfeited their wives to come for a new, younger one. And Sophia is having none of it.
When the night of her ball arrives, Sophia finds herself dreading it more than anything in the world. And while the arrival of neighbor Luke, who shares a secret similar to Sophia’s, presents the opportunity for relief from some of the societal expectations, that relief is quickly dashed by the claim of a more prominent male member of society. Within moments, Sophia is running–an act that will be punished greatly–and soon finds herself in Cinderella’s tomb. It is here that she meets a young woman descended from Cinderella’s family with secrets of her own about the truth behind the Cinderella story everyone thinks they know.
Bayron actually does a pretty exceptional job with the start of her novel. Readers quickly become immersed in the world, thoroughly invested in what happens to the characters. There’s a dark mystery behind Cinderella that leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat as you work to decipher the clues the book sets forth. The biggest one, admittedly, I found out very early on and you will, too, so long as you’re paying close enough attention. One thing, however, did genuinely surprise me.
What went wrong, then?
Where everything really flopped was at the inclusion of the fairy godmother. To keep this spoiler-free, I will merely say that every instance in which the fairy godmother came up in the story after Sophia’s ball was terrible. It derailed the story so many times that I honestly, at times, felt like I was reading a fanfiction of a series in which the first part was the novel written by the author and the middle was someone’s attempt at completing it.
Sophia and Constance’s journey really spoke of two girls with no idea where to really begin their quest. A shot in the dark that made only some sense works out in the end and ultimately leads to a lot of poorly written scenes and a deus ex machina. Both of our leading ladies enjoy a depressingly irritating loss of character development. Where I had loved Constance initially, after a certain point her commentary became annoying. Where Sophia seemed strong at first, she loses some of it as the novel shifts to focus on her being soft and empathetic (and “special” as another character says).
Also, I’m sorry, but what in the hell was the ritual in the woods about?
High-quality writing returns as we near the end.
In many ways, the plot of this story is wonderful. It’s just the right amount of dark and mysterious mixed in with some adventure and romance. The secret behind Cinderella’s truths was sufficiently creepy and devastating. The final battle, while definitely employing a little deus ex machina, was not altogether unenjoyable.
The finale was actually quite good. I had a great time reading it. It’s dark and disturbing but, best of all, it’s suspenseful. If this story is going to shock you, the culmination of the entire story is where you are most like to find it. Sophia does not disappoint once throughout the entire thing. I even stopped finding Constance increasingly irritating and started to like her again.
Then, in the last few pages, it disappears again.
The fight is over, the conflict ends. Suddenly we’re back to characters who have no idea what to do.
There’s a reason, to write well, you should write what you know or at the very least research the hell out of it. Melding the politics of a kingdom into some perfect ending is difficult in the best of circumstances, but it was immediately clear to me that the author had no idea how to conclude her story with regards to the world she had built just as she had no idea how to get her characters to the turning point in the middle. Realistically, it never would have ended as cookie-cutter as she made it to.
Frankly, I could have done without the confrontation outside of the palace and the poorly written, child-like all-is-well epilogue that came next. The story suffered for having it and Bayron would have been better off leaving everything open-ended.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.