Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn BayronCinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron is a YA fantasy that takes place 200 years after the death of Cinderella. It’s a fun, feminist take on the popular fairytale. The book empowers and inspires young women to become the heroes of their own stories.

It’s the bicentennial celebration of Cinderella’s Annual Ball and King Manford has summoned all the sixteen-year-old girls in Lille to take part in the special occasion. The men of the kingdom will select their wives based on the girls’ good looks and displays of finery. If a girl is not chosen after three balls, she’s considered a forfeiture and is never heard from again.

It’s time for Sophia to attend her first ball, and she’s been dreading this day her entire life. Sophia has nothing but disdain for the tradition. She’s watched the women of Lille forced into loveless and often abusive marriages. According to the laws of the kingdom, a woman has no rights. Once she is married, she becomes the property of her husband.

Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her best friend than be put on show for the lecherous men of the kingdom. At the ball, Sophia makes the dangerous decision to escape, and she flees to Cinderella’s mausoleum. It’s there that she meets Constance, the last known descendent of Cinderella and her stepsisters. Constance introduces Sophia to the real history of her family and what happened to Cinderella two hundred years ago. Together they vow to destroy King Manford. They embark on a magical journey to discover how to defeat the ruler and in the process, they learn there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they could have imagined.

Will Sophia and Constance be able to overthrow a two hundred-year-old regime, or will they, like other independent young women, become victims of the patriarchy?

The Characters

It took me a few chapters to warm up to Sophia. She’s angry and let’s face it, we are socialized not to find that trait attractive in women. She’s angry her friend Erin can’t return her love; she’s angry her parents won’t support her desire to break free from the laws controlling her country; and she’s angry at the patriarchy that has kept the women of Lille in the prison of forced marriage. I understood her rage. She has no control over anything in her life and she’s had enough. She’s attracted to women, and that’s something else the oppressive rules governing her country won’t allow. As I got to know Sophia, a tender and gentle side of her emerged. Once she meets Constance, she sees a future for herself, and nothing’s going to get in her way. She’s bringing a revolution to her kingdom.

Constance is a young woman on a mission. She knows the truth behind the Cinderella story. As the descendent of one of the ugly stepsisters, she’s ready to set the record straight and right the wrongs done to her family. When she meets Sophia, she recognizes a kindred spirit. She’s as ardent as Sophia, and she’s got combat skills as well. She brings some levity to the story with her occasional grumpiness, and she has a flirtatious side that occasionally throws Sophia off her game.

The Writing Style

Cinderella is Dead is written in first person from Sophia’s point of view. Sophia is a very intense young woman and that’s reflected in the writing. While the book is a fantasy based on the Cinderella fairytale, there’s nothing fanciful about the story. It’s dark and brooding which matches the intensity of Sophia’s determination. The story is also quite the mystery. Sophia and Constance are tasked with finding out why King Manford has such a hold over the kingdom. The pacing of the plot kept me involved, and even though I solved the mystery before the two main characters, it was fun watching them put the pieces together.

The Pros

Any story in which the main characters are out to topple the patriarchy is aces with me. I think my young adult self would have loved to have literature like this at my disposal. There isn’t any subtlety to the feminist messaging in Cinderella is Dead, but it works. Sophia and Constance are wise beyond their years. They realize the most dangerous men are the ones who sit in plain sight daring to be challenged, and they’re determined to do more than challenge them. Sophia and Constance are the resistance, and they won’t be stopped.

The Cons

I’m not sure if this is necessarily a con, but I felt like I was reading a book aimed at the pre-teen audience. It’s great for that audience, but I wouldn’t necessarily seek this book out for myself.

The Conclusion

Cinderella is Dead is fun and adventurous. It’s always entertaining to see a new interpretation of a well-known fairytale. There’s magic, mystery, and thrills so it’s appealing in many ways. It’s escapist fantasy with an in-your-face feminist message. Let’s all say it together, “Girl power!”

Excerpt from Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

An ivory-colored envelope sits on the mantel, my name scrawled across the front in billowing black script. I take it down and pull out the folded letter from inside. The paper is thick, dyed the deepest obsidian. I read the letter inside as I have done a million times since it arrived the morning of my sixteenth birthday.

Sophia Grimmins

King Manford requests the honor of your presence at the annual ball.

This year marks the bicentennial of the first ball, where our beloved Cinderella was chosen by Prince Charming. The festivities will be grand and made all the more special by your attendance.

The ball begins promptly at eight o’clock on the third of October.

The choosing ceremony will begin at the stroke of midnight.

Please arrive on time. We eagerly await your arrival. Sincerely, His Royal Highness King Manford.

On its face, the invitation is beautiful. I know girls who dream of the day their invitation arrives, who think of little else. But as I turn it over in my hand, I read the part of the letter that so many of those eager young women miss. Along its outer edge, in a pattern that reminds me of ivy snaking its way up latticework, are words in white script that give a dire warning.

You are required to attend the annual ball. Failure to comply will result in imprisonment and seizure of all assets belonging to your immediate family.

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