Cover Image: Cinderella Is Dead

Cinderella Is Dead

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One of my favourite kind of stories is a fairy tale retelling. This book took that prompt and blew it out of the park.
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For fans of alternate and modernized fairytales, Cinderella is dead has diverse characters in terms of sexuality and race. This is not my typical genre of choice, and while I did enjoy this more than I thought I would, I did find the transitions from one event to other to especially towards the end to feel somewhat rushed.
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I loved the book so much that I bought a copy for myself. I’m anxiously awaiting more reimaginings from Kalynn Bayron.
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I started reading this as a ARC a handful of times and bailed. I bought the hardcover thinking that the change in format might help, but it languished in my bookshelf until I saw the audiobook available from the library. Once I realized that the narrator was the incomparable Bahni Turpin, I was all in and finished it in a day.

It is not my favorite Cinderella retelling, and it took me a few pages to get into the story, but once I did the book flew by and I ended up reading it in a day.
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<I>"Maybe Liv wants to be taken away. I can't blame her, but that's not for me. 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."</I>

TL;DR: A queer, Black Girl Magic retelling of the Cinderella story: much needed representation + a strong message about knowing yourself and saving yourself (not waiting for a man to do it)are slightly undercut by flat characters and some weak world-building. 
If this is your first Kaylynn Bayron book, don't let it put you off reading [book:This Poison Heart|54860241]. The weaker parts of this book are much improved and revised in Bayron's duology; I think this book needed to walk so the duology could soar. 
<b><I>I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.</b></I>

Vibes: Cinderella + Gothic vibes + Handmaid's Tale

Genre: True YA Fantasy Retelling + Queer Romance

Romance Meter: 🖤 🖤 🖤 🖤 ♡

Character MVP: Probably Constance...the characters aren't as dynamic and fleshed out as in Bayron's duology, but the descendant of one of Cinderella's stepsisters is a welcome addition to the story. She's sharp and acerbic (although not as much as Marie will be in Bayron's duology) and assertive; her connection to the Cinderella mythos is a fresh take on a tired trope (pitting women against each other). 

Verdict: 3.5 stars, but I just couldn't round up to 4 stars because of some world-building / narrative / character things. 

I'm actually really glad I read This Poison Heart duology first because I'm not 100% sure I would have read Bayron's other books if I had started with this one. It's a perfectly fine book -- and I may be being nitpicky because (1) I'm reading a lot on Cinderella (the story / tale type) for a class I'm getting ready to teach and (2) world building is pet peeve of mine -- but I also didn't have much trouble putting it down to move on to other things. 

There are things that Bayron did well here, which I'll get to in a minute, but having read the duology first, this felt very much like a first draft of that story: spunky queer heroine falls in love with a strong, sassy, uniquely-haired Girl Who's Different and they end up on a quest guided by a morally questionable older woman / mentor figure. Sophia is an early draft of Bri, and Constance is an early version of Marie -- and both Bri and Marie are much more fleshed out and dynamic in the duology than Sophia & Constance are here. 

What worked: 
✔️ -- Representation. Where Bayron shines. Girls are strong and active, not passively waiting around for a man to save them, which is great, because men rarely come off well in Bayron's books. 
Even the 'real' Cinderella (within the narrative-world) is plucky and devious, and manages to help -- much like the maternal spirit that presides over much of the agency in folk versions of the story -- from beyond the grave. 
✔️ -- A Black Cinderella. Another point of representation -- and I think Bayron is responding to the tradition of casting fairy tale heroine as white women, because "POC DiDn'T eXiSt In Ye OlDeN eUrOpE!" (<-- ridiculous). There's this idea that "Fairy Tales = European" and we tend to whitewash a lot of figures, erasing the diversity that exists behind them (at least as much as we know for certain). So even though Brandy played Cinderella in 1997, and we have Tiana and Halle Bailey cast as Ariel, "fairy tales" are still very much exclusionary, and Bayron gives a giant "F that" to that idea. 
✔️ -- An openly gay Cinderella. Also bonus representation. The whole arc is basically a coming out story and triumphing over internalized homophobia and how homophobia is used by a lot of people to reinforce the "normatively" of heterosexual unions -- which I 100% am here for. Also, I'm not familiar with a ton of openly gay Cinderellas...I know I've read at least one where Cinderella runs off with the Fairy Godmother instead, but I think it's more common to cast her as bi. Which is not a bad thing! 

What Didn't Work (for me):
✔️ -- The Worldbuilding. Ugh. Always a pet peeve of mine. I just wanted *more.* Maybe Bayron was playing with fairy tale tropes in that we're often just thrown into a fairy-tale world with little details or backstory (once upon a time, in a far-away land), but the place names made it seem very French. And I *get* that "learning the true story" is part of the narrative arc, but it seemed that a lot of the first 75 pages or so were Sophia walking around proclaiming how awful it was to live in this kingdom because the King Was So Mean, and we didn't really know why or what his end goal was. Her relationship with Erin in particular was very flat to me: we know that Sophia loves Erin (and presumably Erin loves her back, even though it really doesn't feel that way), and she also tromps around a lot the first part of the book passionately declaring that "she wants to be with her and it isn't fair!" Now, I fully support Sophia's decision to be with whoever she wants to be, but a little more substance up front might have gone a long way. 

✔️ -- Follow up: The King's Motivations. Again, this *is* a fairy-tale, so maybe my expectations were just too high, but he's a very flat, one-dimensional villain. He seems evil and cruel and his end goal is....patriarchy? Like, just generic (but still awful!) "keep women down and oppressed." 
And all the other males seem 100% cruel because of it...Like, there are no good men here? Even Sophia's father is a bit dickish at times...

✔️ -- Except Luke, who was very underutilized. Now, I know Bayron likes to focus on female characters -- which I'm on board with. Most of her chapters would pass the Bechdel test. But Luke had such potential, and he was imprisoned for most of the book. Womp womp. I would have loved to see like a little outcast band of queer rebels go storming the castle, but alas.

✔️ -- Final major pet peeve, which may be *really* academic. There was a weird blending of the Grimm and Perrault (and even Disney) versions of the story going on that...I don't know. It *could* be a commentary on how there *isn't* One True Version of Cinderella out there, and the story is just a mish-mash of revised versions, but some details were oddly specific. 
Like the place names (and some character names) were VERY French.
And Perrault's French version is the only version (99% sure on that one) with the fairy godmother (as a human-like person who descends to help Cinderella, rather than animals/tree) and the pumpkin transformation and the glass slipper. Those are very specific elements we can 100% trace back to Perrault's version. 
But Sophia's last name is "Grimmins" (or something) which is clearly an allusion to the Grimms. 
The Palace version of the story starts with the dying mother's invocation that Cinderella be kind, which doesn't happen in the French version; its more common in the German kind.
And, in the French version, the stepsisters are forgiven by Cinderella and end off married to court nobility which is either weirdly kind of Cinderella or amazingly petty, depending on how you look at it. 
And, yes, I know that the point of Bayron's version is that the "Palace approved" text is used a tool to keep women in line and docile and obedient and subservient to men, which you can definitely say of BOTH the French and German versions. And that Bayron's "new" Cinderella -- both her book itself and the meta-story of Cinderella published at the end -- are about overcoming that patriarchal subjugation to be your own subject / person. 
But it was a weird mish-mash of versions and it probably only really stood out to me because I've got Cinderella on the brain. 

I just wanted *more* from the story, because the premise is really intriguing.
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I thought this book was so good! I love a twisted fairytale, and I love the queer aspect brought into the classic tale. I can’t wait to read more by this author!
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An amazing premise, but ultimately not 100% for me. The story just seemed to fall flat, sadly. I couldn't connect with the characters or the stakes the plot proposed.
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This was selected as New Hampshire's state book award--Isinglass Book Award. My students adored it and had to chuckle at the title when they first saw the cover on display. They quickly learned that this book challenges our assumptions and makes them question what they want from their own life.
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This was a... frustrating but good read. 3.5 stars.

I loved the twists of the story, the building to the end and the amount of world building that we got. I wasn't expecting it to be as melancholy as it was, which surprised me and made me actually enjoy it more. It's a quick, sapphic fantasy retelling that I think anyone that likes dystopian fairytale retellings would really enjoy. 

For me, I think my biggest issues were just how Sophia acted about the people around her and their own reactions to their oppression, which I get because she's a 16-year-old girl who's angry at the world she lives in. So it wasn't a writing issue, but it was just a GAHH this is frustrating issue while reading it. That and the character of Luke felt like such a wasted opportunity. I wish we'd seen more of him, and I wish he had gotten more of a plot or at least a better ending.
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Though I am a little leery of fairytale retellings, because there are SO many of them, I enjoyed the feminist perspective in Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron.  Bayron strips away the glossy, pretty story, and presents Cinderella in a darker, more realistic way.
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Original, fantastic, and captivating, this Cinderella retelling is one for the ages. Kalynn Bayron is one to watch with stories like this.
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Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron is the newest retelling of a widely known Cinderella tale. Set in the faraway kingdom of Mersailles, this story introduces Sophia, a sixteen-year-old girl in the capital city of Lille, forced to attend an annual ball in the king's palace. The curious twist of this book is in the kingdom's ideology: Cinderella's story, first recorded two hundred years ago, is worshipped akin to the Bible, every girl dreaming of a fairy godmother before the ball and the place by the king's side. Sophia is exhausted by the grave reality of the lack of choice she faces every second of her life: the women of Mersailles hope to be chosen during the ball, and the failure to acquire a husband in three consecutive years results in grave punishment – obscurity, and, most likely, death.

Here is where I come out and say it: Cinderella is one of my all-time favourite stories. A considerable chunk of my sporadic fiction written over the years is in some way inspired by the girl that got what she rightfully deserved for her pain; even now, when I am fully critical of fiction glorifying royalty, I dare say I turn to it in my moments of weakness and yearning (take Red, White & Royal Blue which I read uncritically and would probably spit venom at if I did otherwise). The newest rendition of my beloved tale caught my attention, and I rushed to read it.

What followed was a decent read. I can't praise it, but I also cannot say it was wholly disappointing: if you've followed me for some time, you know I am drawn to the darker side of fiction, the disturbing twists on classic stories and questionable morals of their characters. Cinderella Is Dead introduces a grim world of extreme misogyny, where women are treated like property, and a tyrant who sets an example by glorifying the abuse. Sophia is the hope of Mersailles: she sees through the oppressive ideology and refuses to accept the life forced upon her. She is outspoken and defiant, ready to sacrifice the relative comfort of her life for the sake of mass liberation; I think, overall, that this story effectively comments on the importance of critical thinking. 

The narrative that subverts a tale as old as time only aids in this regard; I truly think that a modern retelling should use the strengths of the original – like Cinderella's agency, for example – in the context of its contemporary world, and I think Cinderella Is Dead does it quite effectively. The Brothers' Grimm Cinderella seeks personal liberation, which in her world means simply ascending the steps of social class; the original tale is that of determination, which is what the king of Mersailles so successfully exploits. Kalynn Bayron presents the reader with an alternative, "uncensored" version of the tale, wherein Cinderella is actually a rebel conspiring against the king – a tyrant who managed to acquire immortality. I especially loved the persistent theme of empowering womanhood. (Sophia, or any other girl, for that matter, does not hate other girls on the page – except for only two times where it is explicitly acknowledged that the roots of this hate lie in fear and systemic oppression.) Cinderella's mother is executed for her plans to overthrow the king, her stepmother is the ideological heir to that legacy, and Cinderella's stepsisters are near and dear to her heart, actively working against the king together. I think this "uncensored" story that the king has been suppressing and rewriting after Cinderella's death is my favourite element of the book; hell, I would've loved to read the full version instead.

In this regard, the sapphic romance in this book is especially brilliant. I won't get into queer theory here, but I love the fact that although not explicitly so, Sophia's lesbianism is a political stance at its core. In a world determined by heterosexual culture, Sophia is truly the rebel with an actual potential to turn the tide. 

As it stands, however, Cinderella Is Dead is one of the many cases of a great idea that could have been executed better. The dialogue was what disappointed me most gravely: flat and generic, it was going in circles, with the characters reaffirming their goals, conveniently revealing their plans to one another just so the reader understands where we're going and why, and just generally every character sounding the same, be it a two-hundred-year-old diary entry from Cinderella herself or Sophia's new friend. The action is also quite underwhelming: a lot of the scenes feel like they are going nowhere, adding nothing to the story. There is, for example, a scene that I skimmed over in which Sophia runs into a pack of wolves in the forest and ends up losing her horse. It takes up a couple pages, but it never actually causes anything in itself. The romance is similarly pointless: as I mentioned above, it absolutely does serve a political purpose, offering an entirely new ideology to the rigid world, but it itself it is the usual case of insta-love for the purpose of romance in a fantasy narrative.

Descriptions of places and people are quite rushed, and the world never feels fleshed out. As a standalone retelling of a story most Western readers have read, seen and heard a thousand times over, it works, because we all know what a roughly-medieval-inspired fantasy world should look like; as its own story, however, it is considerably lacking the meat on the bones. I would definitely recommend it to younger readers, maybe up to thirteen (I cannot imagine recommending it to my younger sister now – I think it is just past her time to read and love it). If you are looking for a new Cinderella retelling, I think it is worth checking out. If you want a sapphic romance story with a predominantly Black cast, I think it is a perfect choice. If you want something truly groundbreaking in terms of themes or style, I'd say skip it with confidence.
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This is a creative and adventurous retelling of Cinderella. The first chapter is just horrible--it should have been scrapped and rewritten. Aside from that--this is a provocative and interesting tale. Sophia is brave and hard-headed and you cheer for her even though she's a bit reckless. Constance is kind of one-dimensional; she's likable but not really memorable. The ending was very good.
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Please give me all the unapologetically queer badass MC's destroying the patriarchy in a ball gown.

I've had this book for ages and I don't know why I've been putting it off. I've legitimately had it in every format, ebook, audio, and physical copy. I don't know what my brain was thinking because this is a wonderful Cinderella retelling. It's a little bit harsh and brutal at times but at its core it is about being unapologetically yourself and standing up for what you believe in, even if it's hard.

The whole premise of this book is a fairy tale like dystopian world. It's set 200 years after the story of Cinderella and the king has imposed all of these laws and rules that put women and girls at the mercy of men. The women have to attend a Cinderella ball in their teenage years and if they are not chosen by a man within three balls, they are forfeit and sent to work as forced labor essentially, or worse. Everyone just seemingly is okay with this and even if they're not okay with it they're not willing to stand up for themselves or their daughters. That is, everyone but Sophia.

Sophia is opinionated and loud and so so gay it was fantastic. She refused to censor herself or silence herself and she is determined to find a way to bring down the king. All she wants to do is be with the girl she loves named Erin, but when Erin goes along with the Cinderella ball and Sophia flees, she's forced to find another path forward. It leads her into the arms of Constance who is the last living relative of Cinderella's family. Through some magic and some fighting and a hell of a lot of resistance, Constance and Sophia do their best to do what they think is right.

I enjoyed the premise of this book and I loved Sophia,  but I got really frustrated with the parents and their lack of will to speak up for and stand up for their daughters. I got especially frustrated with Sophia's parents who tried to convince her to put aside her gay feelings and just go along with the flow. And after shunning her essentially they just expect to be embraced at the end.

I personally would have loved to see an alternate ending or an alternate prologue from either Cinderella's point of view or the underground women's movement POV. I think that would have added a really great element to the story because the way that it ends is a little bit too neat and tidy for me.

This is definitely a stellar book though and I definitely recommend it, especially if you are into fairy tale retellings.

Also I really loved Luke and all of his gay wonder. 

CW: violence against women, murder, execution, sexism, misogyny, homophobia. 

Rep: Black lesbian MC, secondary queer characters including gay, lesbian, and queer
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This book was exactly what the 14 year old in me needed! Brimming with classic Cinderella references while exploring a world after her, Cinderella Is Dead was addicting and enthralling. 

The characters were easily my favorite part of this book. The layers of complexity woven within each made me think about them far after I had finished the book!
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Back in the day – there was this cover trend of girls in beautiful dresses for young adult books. However, basically none of the books featured girls of color. Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron features desperately needed representation. Also, change in cover trends, but that change still isn’t quite enough. I love that there is a Black girl on the cover in a stunning dress wearing her natural hair. How wonderful that teenage Black girls who like to read fantasy will get to see themselves in this fairytale re-working. I just genuinely loved this book so much.

Set two hundred years after Cinderella infamously meets Prince Charming at a ball and falls in love, Cinderella Is Dead follows Sophia, a teenage girl who isn’t interested in finding a prince. In fact, Sophia has feelings for her best friend Erin. Unfortunately, the town of Lille in the kingdom of Mersailles, keeps women and girls subjugated. King Marchant is a royal jerk. Girls must attend the ball to be chosen by a man who will then marry them. The girl then goes under the control of the man who is the head of the household. Sophia chafes against this. So much so that she runs away from the ball and happens to run into Constance, a descendent of one of Cinderella’s stepsisters.

As it turns out, perhaps the story Sophia has heard all her life about Cinderella is wrong. So, together, Sophia and Constance must find answers. Also, they need to take down King Marchant. Along the way Sophia and Constance fall in love. Revolution and overthrow are imminent.

Cinderella Is Dead captivated me. I can see why this book trended on booktok. Sophia is a character that kind of frustrated me at first because I am old and compliant. And I really had to deconstruct why I found myself frustrated with her. But then, I started to see her boldness as an asset. I think another part is that I was so worried for her and nervous that she’d end up really getting hurt. Y’all, I was so invested. I wanted Sophia to win so bad. I found the storyline to be really satisfying. Again, I think I was frustrated too because I was so invested. Also — I loved Sophia with Constance over her with Erin. It just made sense. This book was a great fit for me personally and I cannot wait to read more from Bayron. Love to see the representation too!
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An engaging new take on twisting faerie tales. Bayron uses the story of Cinderella as historical background for an oppressive society built around her story. The lead character Sophia is headstrong and determined to live her life in a manner counter to what society says she should, which leads to adventures and attempts to bring the who misogynist society down. I appreciated that the final fight sequence was a lot longer than what these books normally use, and that it had several parts to it rather than a page of threatening, a page of fighting, the end. The only reason I can't give it fully five stars is that it felt a little too long, but I've been getting that a lot lately so it's probably just me.
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HELL of a book. As a lover of queer fairytale retellings and smashing the patriarchy, this book made me feel personally attacked. But in the best of ways.
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I've been struggling to read during the pandemic, and this book broke through my fog. If you've watched Cinderella recently and were rankled by the themes in the Disney version, this book is your antidote. There's queer representation, a smart and brave Black main character, magic, and LOTS of action. 10/10 you should read.
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Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

By all means, this was not a bad book. But it wasn't a great book either. 

It had good aspects like the every changing plot, and the fact that it took a spin on a classic story and made it into something entirely different and some of the characters were enjoyable!

But there other aspects that I didn't enjoy as much, like the predictability of the story. While I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot, once I was able to predict them, it became less and less enjoyable

Another random thing I didn't enjoy was the gore? It was written well but I didn't feel like the description of it was needed or was relevant to the story, but this is just a personal opinion and not one that, if different, would've made the story better or worse in my opinion

The characters were both enjoyable and not. I liked Constance.. but that was about it. The main character was honestly kind of annoying and Erin.. oh my god, do not even get me started. I can look past the fact that Erin is awful because that is her purpose for the most part. But the main character being annoying and irritating and just dumb sometimes? I understand liking a bad main character if that is purpose of the story, but it clearly wasn't meant to be that way in this story. She was just arrogant and childish and it made following the plot less fun.
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