There were several books this year that I was hoping beyond hope to get approved for as ARCs, this was one of the ones I was most excited for. Cinderella Is Dead had a lot of awareness brought to it with the recent call to read more black authors, but that wasn’t the only reason I was drawn to this retelling. A black, gay, feminist version of a princess story? Hell. Yes.
It’s been 200 years since Cinderella died, and her magical tale provides the foundations for the laws that govern 16 year old Sophia, and the world she knows. Women are at the bottom of the food chain, unable to so much as handle their own money. The law demands that girls aged sixteen attend the annual ball to be picked by men as their wives, to be treated as they will, or be made a forfeit – either disappearing into the dungeons, or executed.
Sophia is in love with Erin, and as much as Erin tries to return her feelings, she’s too terrified to break the rules. As the day of the ball comes around, Sophia’s panic levels are rising fast, the idea of being tied to some man who could treat her horrifically being understandably awful. Added to this, she sees the way the girls around her are being treated, and wants to just run away from it all. Cornered, she makes a break for it, and meets Constance, which is where our tale truly starts.
Being gay myself, and having been in abusive relationships such as those that Sophia witnesses (even without the king’s laws), I could really relate to the level of fear that Sophia felt in the build up to the ball. Her fire and character give her a strength that is immediately likable, watching her fight in every way against such an oppressive system.
The relationships between her and Erin, then her and Constance is wonderful as it does what so many hetrosexual relationships do; shows the development in character, but also in finding what is right for you. Sophia didn’t want to pretend to be in love with a man, and being with Constance gives her the confidence to know that she is perfectly fine the way she is. This isn’t just a scenario in a fantasy novel, but is an issue that gay and bisexual people face around the world, so the book finding a way to tackle Sophia finding security in her sense of self was a hugely important factor. That said, I’m not one for romance, just healthy relationships, and this is just that; it isn’t really a romantic tale.
This book isn’t just a retelling of the Cinderella story, but takes it as a foundation for a revolution. With every person legally having to own an official version of the tale, it is only Sophia and Constance that can challenge that, with the secrets that they have collected along their journey. They can’t continue to watch their world fall like this – and so they fight. Retellings are highly fashionable at the moment, and while there is no harm in that at all – literature always go through phases and popular themes – versions like this are the type I’d like to see more of.
As I’ve said before, I don’t do star ratings here, but I gave this five stars on both NetGalley and Good Reads. I gave it that because, while it isn’t the most skilled piece of literature I’ve ever read, it was so powerful and enjoyable that any lower rating would be unfair. It’s a beautiful book, and one that I far prefer to the traditional version. Sometimes, the damsels in distress save themselves.