It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.
Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .
This fresh take on a classic story will make readers question the tales they’ve been told, and root for girls to break down the constructs of the world around them.
DISCLAIMER –– this review is basically a rant and contains a lot of spoilers so proceed reading only if you are okay with that.
Wow, where do I start with the hot mess that was Cinderella is Dead?! There is just so much to unpack so maybe I will start with a brief description of the plot. The book is set in a backwards dystopian universe in a city called Lille were all the progress made towards equality among women and men does not exist and all men are reduced to evil, misogynists whose sole purpose is to make women’s lives hell. In this universe, the book Cinderella (yes, the fairytale) is basically the bible and girls have to read it regularly to center their lives around being like her and having their happily ever after. Girls are forced to attend a ball once they are sixteen and must be dressed as opulently as possible (a rule the King of this city enforces quite strictly) and their only purpose is to find a husband for themselves. Sophia, the protagonist decides that this is unfair and runs away from Lille to overthrow the misogynistic rule. This plot premise has been overdone by so many YA fantasy books to the point where it is not even relevant anymore.
So in reality the King, or Prince Charming a petulant child, was annoyed that Cinderella did not love him back as much as he wanted and is now taking revenge on all girls. This is literally his motive to be evil and wants to torture young girls by making them come to a ball. The main character, Sophia is your typical YA book rebel (a point established right in the first couple of pages and almost vehemently reinforced at every possible moment) and defiantly proceeds to have a relationship with another girl, Erin who is constantly shown to be weak-willed and not as strong as Sophia is. I do not even get how they are in love because most of what we are shown is Sophia convincing Erin that they are in love but apparently they are so good for them I guess.
Even after 200 years of this rule where every woman in this town is being abused and every man is horrible, Sophia seems to be the only one who thinks that the world they live in is messed up and someone has to do something about it.
“You’ll change the world then, Sophia?”
“I don’t know about the world, but we can start with Lille,” I say.
For context about how caricaturish the men are, here is they talk about women when they are not busy beating them up-
“Is that allowed? Two wives at once?”
“I’d have taken two if I had thought of it at the time, but now it’s just you I have to deal with.” Her husband and his friends laugh while the woman smiles one of those fake smiles, all mouth and no eyes. I know the smile and a little piece of me dies every time I have to use it.
The author pulls out every stereotypically horrible thing about men and overuses it to the point where the message she was trying to convey was lost.
“Smile. You’re so much prettier when you smile.”
Guys are all evil and treat women like shit, have to be macho all the time and kill other men who claim the women they already staked their claim on. I mean the only good guy in this book is gay (who is also pushed to the sidelines in the first 10% of the book and never appears again till the end) and literally everyone else was a monster. I felt that this was a failed opportunity at creating a depth to the characters or addressing toxic masculinity which was clearly the issue in hand here. We are reminded about how rebellious Sophia is in every page and how she is “not like other girls” and quite predictably, she runs away from the ball into the woods – a process that was conveniently easy and was not written in a way to make the readers feel the thrill of her escaping something truly horrifying. Here she encounters Constance, an actual rebel with whom she falls instantly in love with even though just a couple of pages back, she was supposedly madly in love with Erin. Constance has apparently been hiding out in the forest for years and performing rebellious acts with some supposed other women (who never come up at any part of the book) and yet have managed to achieve nothing. After this point, literally everything they do is complete bullshit. Constance reveals that she is the descendant of Gabrielle (one of the “evil” stepsisters from the story) and that she was not evil after all and that the story of Cinderella told was fake (Shocking, I know). Constance, whose only purpose so far has been to hide out in the woods, rebel against the evil King and overthrow the system apparently did not think about finding out more about the truth until Sophia encourages her to do so which I found to be comically hilarious.
“And if it wasn’t for you, I might not be going into the White Wood to find some remnant of the one woman who knew the whole trutg about why Cinderella went up to the palace that night or about what curse afflicted Prince Charming and what that has meant for us all these years.” She smirks. “It’s you and I together that will make the difference.”
I found this to be quite convenient to give our main character a purpose. I mean, I would have been perfectly content to have Constance be the main character of the story and at many instances, it felt as though the author was almost suppressing her to let Sophia shine. In fact, most women in this book except Sophia are not given enough space to shine which felt oddly counterproductive with respect to the context of the plot. Sophia is given no depth or reason to be so angry and spurred by the misogyny in this world. She seems to lead a pretty comfortable life with decent friends and parents so what makes this girl want to rebel? What makes her so angry at everything? No explanations and we are reminded all the time —
“You, Sophia, you’re a damn sharp sword. A wildfire.”
They then run around aimlessly for a bit and meet Amina, a literal caricature of a witch with the descriptions being so stereotypical and blunt I was confused if the author was trying to be ironic or if she was serious.
“A black cauldron hangs over the roaring fire, bubbling with some delicious-smelling concoction. Candles cover every available surface, some lit, some melted into nothing more than little mounds of wax.”
I mean, she had a crow familiar, did divinations and everything. They decide to take her help to find out what actually happened to Cinderella. The sequence of events that transpire do not contribute to any plot progression or character development and they randomly decide to kill the evil King in the end (this should have been the plan from the start duh). Sophia, the most wanted girl in the kingdom now for rebelliously running away from the ball just marches back in and no one does anything about this. The climax was hilariously bad and I literally laughed out loud when I was reading this part (I was in a bus so that was awkward haha). It is revealed that Amina was the evil King’s mother and had bound his life to him so he could live forever by “drinking the souls” of the young women and pretended to be their ally to sabotage Sophia’s plan to kill him. But when Sophia gives a passionate speech (~two sentences) about how so many women have suffered because of this, Amina is like “okay lol you’ve convinced me, i’ll just kill myself now for the good of Lille even though i’ve lived long enough to know how my actions have affected so many women over the years”. Now that all the evil is gone, when it comes to establishing a new fair rule, Sophia tells the men to fuck off and that the women make all the rules now. This defies the point of the entire book if you are just going to imply that one tyrannical suppressive rule would be replaced by another.
Overall, the book which had so much potential to explore the dynamics of misogyny, toxic masculinity and coexistence of everyone in harmony but ended up being quite shallow, having caricatures of characters with no depth whatsoever. The “evil” King could have served as a metaphor for the society trying to force men and women into gender stereotypical molds of what they are expected to be and the book could have had more representative characters breaking these expectations and establishing a world where everyone could be free to just be themselves. This was my expectation from this book based on the premise and would have been much more relevant and interesting if it had been done this way, in my opinion. This book now officially has the most highlighted text in my Kindle with notes that just say “what the fuck” so that was a fun experience. Anyways one question I ask myself now is – why do I even read YA fantasy anymore? It just seems to be a form of self-torture and maybe I’m just too old for this shit now.
Did you read this book? What were your thoughts?