Bethan’s Book of the Month
Cinderella Is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
Published in 2020, Cinderella Is Dead is Kalynn Bayron’s debut novel. It is a retelling of the classic Cinderella story set in a world where at The Annual Ball male suitors choose their future wives. But for the girls unchosen? They seem to go missing. The main character, Sophia, is due to attend her first Annual Ball, but she does not want to attend, let alone be chosen. She already knows who she loves.
I bought this book at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement when my social media feeds still seemed to care. I was recommended endless books with black authors and I bought as many as I could afford. I have chosen this book for February as it is LGBT history month and this is a story of sapphic love in a retold fairytale. It puts a marginalised identity into a timeless genre. However, Cinderella Is Dead, sat on my bookshelf unread (along with 300 other unread books) until it was time to choose a book to write about. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. It’s quite fast paced so it is an easy read if you want something to boost your book count or get out of a reading slump.
** Spoiler Alert: CW – death, homophobia, domestic abuse **
The opening of the story seems like a classic dystopian young adult story, a teenage girl running away from a guard, escaping an oppressive home. And trust me, I’ve read more than my fair share of young adult dystopian stories, but this was so much more.
Bayron introduces Sophia’s character and her values by having her attend her dress fitting two hours late and still dirty from running through the forest to meet her forbidden crush. It is also at this point that we learn about the role of the Cinderella story in Lille.
All houses must own a ‘Palace-Approved’ version of the story which tells the story of Cinderella as we know it, a young girl who falls for the dashing Prince Charming when he saves her from her evil family. It is on this story that Charming and his royal successors have ruled and dictated Mersailles and Lille for 200 years.
Before Sophia attends the ball she meets Luke, a local boy who has never attended the ball himself (as for men it is merely optional), He drives her into town to collect all the things she must own to look like Cinderella for the ball. Luke and Sophia learn, through the abusive motivation of Morris, that they are both uninterested in partaking in the Ball and marrying. Luke is an important queer ally for Sophia and a catalyst for her escape from the Ball.
After she escapes from the Ball, Sophia meets Constance in the tomb of the original Cinderella. Constance is the only remaining relative of Gabrielle (one of the step-sisters) and has been passed down the real story of Cinderella from generation to generation. Constance shares this story with Sophia and they make a plan to use the truth to bring down King Manford.
** MAJOR SPOILERS **
One of the most interesting characters is the Fairy Godmother. In most retellings of the Cinderella story, the Fairy Godmother is consistent in her beauty and benevolence. However, in this story, she is not a fairy who grants wishes out of the goodness of her own heart, but rather a witch who causes mayhem and suffering for those she cares little for. She hides in the woods, claiming to be ashamed of her past. She reveals she helped put Charming on the throne, thus beginning the rule of terror experienced by Sophia and 200 years of women.
However, the Fairy Godmother (Amina) is not just a bystander to the story of Cinderella. She is the mother of the immortal Prince Charming who has been ruling over Lille under four different names since the original Cinderella story. Her relationship with Sophia and Constance is full of twists and betrayals. And it is her death that brings to an end the tyrannical rule of Charming.
** End of Spoilers **
Overall, I adored this book. It was more than any one genre could explain, it had dystopia, fairytale, romance. If you are to only read one book this year, let it be this.