GENRE(S): Young Adult, Pseudo-Historical, Fantasy, Fairytale Retelling.
QUICK SUMMARY: Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.
When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.
Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.
Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.
TW: Self-mutilation, mental illness (dementia), minor animal cruelty.
AVG. GOODREADS RATING: 4.15 ★ over 1, 700 ratings.
MY RATING: ★★★★★ (5)
MY REVIEW: The opening sequence is badass. Right away, it shows you how hardcore the main character is, and that assures you that this is not going to be a Nice Fairytale. The protagonist gives me Joan of Arc feels, and her character development and working on her flaws, and reworking and rethinking the way she’s shaped herself through the male gaze was really on point. I also loved her sister, and how in her ‘ugliness’ manifested itself as a sharp tongue and a keen mind.
In general, it does an excellent job of picking apart the step-sisters relationships with each other, and with (Cinder)Ella, and exploring how their mother (Ella’s step-mother) played them against each other. Ditto as showing what it means to be considered “ugly”. Because, really, if you’re a woman, ugly can mean not conventionally attractive, but it can also be a misogynistic way of saying a woman is “difficult”, clever or not particular about your appearance to a man’s satisfaction. There’s also a sweet little quote I can not find about how it’s a man’s world, and ugliness is the one sin that men can’t forgive in a woman. I also loved how much depth was given to the character of Ella, that there are downsides and flaws to be found in being pretty, and gentle, and beloved.
The setting (and the villagers that populated it) made me think of the Angry and Judgemental Townspeople in Beauty and the Beast, only partially because that’s also a pseuso-historical French village. Overall, I did like the fantastical Chance vs. Fates element of it, as well as the Fae Queen, but it was the way that feminism was so neatly and elegantly picked apart that made this book a hit for me.
It’s not as dark as Damsel by E. K Arnold or Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, but it’s definitely worth the read if you’re into feminist re-imaginings.
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!
AND THERE WE GO! Have you read Stepsister yet? Feel free to friend me on GoodReads!