It’s been two hundred years since Cinderella met her Prince Charming. Her dream come true has become a nightmare for the girls of Lille. Every year, all eligible young girls must attend the royal ball, where they vie to be selected as brides for Lille’s men. For the girls who are not chosen, there are dire but mysterious consequences.
It’s time for Sophia to debut at the ball, and it’s the last thing she wants to do. For one thing, she’s gay and doesn’t want to marry a man at all. She’s also noticed that many of the marriages that result from the ball are anything but happy. But refusing to attend would ruin her family, so Sophia goes. Disaster strikes, and soon Sophia is on the run with another girl. Constance, and they become a fierce two-woman resistance against the king. Along the way, Sophia discovers that the official version of the Cinderella story is a lie.
I read this 400-page novel in about three hours. Marion recently described an experience where she sat down to sample a few pages of a book, and in the blink of an eye she’d devoured a large chunk of it. Cinderella Is Dead (2020) was like that for me. It’s incredibly fast-paced and addictive. I was thoroughly caught up in the lives of these girls, the dangers they faced, and the secrets they were discovering. And very, very much rooting for them to depose the horrible king and establish justice.
The use of Cinderella as the basis of a dystopia is unique and works well. It seems like it might be a critique of theocracy — after all, people have been making laws based on stories for millennia! It also plays on the way the reader’s inner child reacts to the familiar tropes of the fairy tale. There’s a part of my brain, and probably a lot of other people’s brains, that still gets a little dreamy at the thought of fairy godmothers and glass slippers. It’s kind of, I won’t say “fun” exactly, but maybe “satisfyingly twisted,” to see the story’s warped reflection.
Kalynn Bayron peppers images throughout the book that are clues to what’s really going on, but doesn’t explain them until later, at which point their true meaning is revealed. There were several times I read a scene and then flipped back to an earlier point because something sounded familiar, to find that yep, that was there all along! I kind of want to reread the book and see if there’s anything else I can catch the second time around.
The love story can seem like it’s moving too quickly, but I don’t think that’s actually the case. The book covers a couple of months. It just doesn’t seem like that long because the novel itself moves so quickly and doesn’t linger on periods of inactivity.
Cinderella Is Dead is an exciting YA novel that subverts a beloved fairy tale and gives us heroines to cheer for. It’s so propulsive that you’ll probably finish it long before the clock strikes midnight. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Bayron does next.