Please note: This post contains affiliate links.
Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron is set in the kingdom of Mersailles which was founded by Prince Charming, 200 years after Cinderella’s death. In the years since, the palace has decreed that an annual ball must be held in her honor and an invitation sent to every sixteen-year-old girl, with attendance mandatory. The men of the kingdom—who are not obliged to attend at any age—may use the ball to select their future wife (or wives). Girls have no say in the choosing process and those who have not been chosen by their third ball are considered forfeit and sent away by their families to work in servitude or in workhouses. Even having to attend a third ball is considered to be deeply shameful. In recent years, some girls have started to disappear after the ball; many have turned up dead but the missing number beyond count.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia is about to attend her first ball and her parents—as with most families in her town—have dug themselves deep into debt to buy her the most beautiful dress, wig, and shoes in hopes of emulating Cinderella and having her chosen quickly. Sophia, however, would much rather run away with her best friend Erin whom she has loved for years, keeping those illegal feelings locked away from nearly everyone. On the night of the ball, Sophia catches a glimpse behind the curtain at the horrors awaiting her if she goes through with the choosing ceremony. Instead, she runs for her life—straight into Constance who helps her escape into the woods.
As the two girls share their stories, Sophia comes to realize that there is much more to the Cinderella story than the palace-approved fairy tale version she was brought up to believe without question. She and Constance quickly develop feelings for one another and, after meeting the mysterious Amina, begin working together to piece together the truth about what is really going on behind the glittering facade of the palace. The more they uncover, the more horrifying the truth becomes, and Sophia realizes that perhaps she is the person to bring an end to the horrors being inflicted upon her kingdom by those in power.
I fell in love with Cinderella Is Dead and devoured the entire book in a day. The story begins as a fairly typical YA fantasy but quickly changes into something totally different. Everything you think you knew about the Cinderella story is cleverly twisted and turned and as each revelation occurs you find yourself wondering who can truly be trusted. By the time it ends, Cinderella Is Dead has warped its way from traditional fantasy to something more closely related to horror—with a little political drama thrown in for good measure.
The biggest downside to the book was that it gets a little heavy-handed at times. The entire story is a vehement rally against the patriarchy and how it allows men, particularly rich men, to keep and sustain power over women. Anyone who does not conform faces being branded a traitor. LGBTQ individuals are forced to hide their true identities while women are kept under curfew and prevented from possessing money or property. The main protagonists go on frequent rants about this system and, while I agreed with every word they said, many of those moments felt forced, the author using them to tell us about our own society’s failings rather than letting readers figure out those parallels for themselves.
A somewhat heavy-handed touch is a minor criticism though, and I can’t help but highly recommend Cinderella Is Dead. Yes, the ending is a little too neat and predictable, but the journey to get there is a fantastic one that will keep you awake until the early hours of the morning needing to find out what happens next.
GeekMom received a copy of this book for review purposes.