ARC Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

This is the fiercely feminist and empowering story of rebellion you’ve been waiting for! This Cinderella retelling has a queer black girl overthrowing the patriarchy and is a must-read! Bayron’s debut YA fantasy weaves together an intensely powerful story that reimagines the fairy tales we all know and weaves them together with the ways society uses story to control people.

Cinderella is Dead is the fiercely feminist and empowering story of rebellion we've been waiting for! Bayron's debut YA fantasy weaves together an intensely powerful story that reimagines the fairy tales we know. Click To Tweet

About Cinderella is Dead

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA  |  Release Date: July 7, 2020  |  Pages: 400
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  |  Format: eARC  |  Source: Publisher via Netgalley

US cover for Cinderella Is DeadIt’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.

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My Review of Cinderella is Dead

finished copy of Cinderella is Dead
Finished copy of Cinderella is Dead with preorder pin!

Friends, I didn’t know how much I needed this book and stories like this. There is something uniquely special about feminist retellings of the fairy tales we grew up reading. I don’t know about you but my worldview is shaped by these stories, and as an adult I’ve had the pleasure of abject horror with how reality clashes with the idealism. I’m tired. I wish I could have read this book and others like it as a teenager.

Whoa, that got a little deep. Sorry about that.

“Cinderella has been dead for two hundred years. I’ve been in love with Erin for the better part of three years. And I am about two minutes away from certain death.”

Look at those opening lines! I dare you to show me a stronger and eye-catching opening. I’ll wait. I was instantly drawn into the narrative and on the edge of my seat, a feeling that stayed with me the entire time that I read this book. I just needed the characters to be okay and love it when the plot has real stakes.

“People who don’t fit nicely into the boxes the kings of Mersailles have defined are simply erased, as if our lives don’t matter.”

Reading this book made me so angry in the best of ways! So many of my reading notes are some form of “🔥🔥🔥 burn the patriarchy!” The kingdom of Mersailles is built around the Cinderella fairytale… only she was a real person who lived and died 200 years ago. Her story (the one we all know) is basically the Kingdom’s bible and is used to inform the laws of the land, all of which are there to “keep the women safe”. 🤬🤬🤬

“There is no resisting. We can’t go against the book or the king.”

Mersailles is not a good place for women. It’s an intensely patriarchal society where any dissent is swiftly punished, frightening everyone into complacency. I absolutely loved the world-building and how the author crafted a place both familiar and new. The writing is so descriptive that I was fully immersed, and the pacing of the story didn’t feel bogged down by the lush descriptions of clothing and scenery.

The book is fast-paced and action-packed. I had a difficult time putting it down because I was enjoying the book so much. There is a layer of predictability with the plot; there was one thing that was so glaringly obvious to me for most of the book that got harped on for too long while Sophia caught up to me that dragged my experience down a little. But! I was so focused on that thing that I was completely blindsided by something else. I wish the book was a little longer though because the ending came too quickly and wrapped up very easily. I could have happily stayed in this world with these characters for 100 more pages.

“She must conform, know her place, and do whatever must be done to find a match, and so do you.”

Sophia is a main character you can’t help but root for. She is fierce and amazing and I love her character development arc.  However, some of the side characters felt one-dimensional. This wasn’t the end of the world for me as I was incredibly invested in Sophia, Erin, and Constance but I do wish more of the characters felt real.

“All fairy tales have some grain of truth. Picking apart that truth from the lies can be tricky, though.”

I love how kind and patient Constance is with Sophia; Constance models how we all can be better advocates and allies. I also appreciate that while Sophia was rebellious and had her own doubts before everything, she doesn’t simply accept everything she’s told straight away. The author does a great job showing that it’s hard to have everything you believe in shatter and it takes time and effort to unlearn things.

“We come from different places. I grew up knowing all of this. You’re just starting to understand it. But it’s okay.”

A central theme is the importance of one person having the courage to do something and how that one person can inspire many others. Everything about this society is meant to subjugate women and keep them tightly controlled, too afraid to speak up. Sophia’s journey to find her voice and not be silent is inspiring.

“Do not be silent.
Raise your voice.
Be a light in the dark.”

Overall, Cinderella is Dead is a powerful and fiercely feminist fantasy debut that everyone needs to pick up. It’s got amazing world-building, characters you will love, and it’s core theme of thinking critically about stories we are told is crucial. We need stories that empower. Kalynn Bayron is definitely an author to watch and I look forward to what she writes next!

Representation: Black main character (own-voices), f/f relationship, LGBTQIAP+ (gay and lesbian characters)
Content warnings: animal death and sacrifice, bullying, death, domestic abuse, homophobia, loss of a loved one, murder, outing of a character, sexism, sexual assault, violence

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eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley for my honest review. This did not affect the contents of my review. Quotations are from an uncorrected proof and may be changed upon final publication.

Are you a fan of retellings? Have you read Cinderella is Dead yet or is it on your TBR?

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!

14 Comments

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End

    September 29, 2020 at 4:42 AM

    Excellent!! I am a fan of fairy tale retellings but I’m rather choosy about them — this sounds just wonderful. Is it a one-and-done? Very exciting if so! (I love a series but sometimes it is nice to read one complete story in one complete book.)

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 12:13 PM

      I can be rather choosy with retellings too, but I love how this one plays off of the fairytale rather than rewrites it. It is a standalone! I agree that it’s nice to not get sucked into more series, hehehe

  2. Laura @ Daydreaming Dragons

    September 29, 2020 at 11:44 AM

    I’ve had my eye on this book for a while because I love retellings, but your review has definitely made me even more excited to read it! I’m glad you enjoyed the book, and great review! 🙂

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 12:14 PM

      Ahh, I am so happy to hear my review has you even more excited for the book. Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

  3. Tasya @ The Literary Huntress

    September 30, 2020 at 7:42 AM

    I’ve been eyeing this one since it seems to be taken the community by storm! I love retellings, especially ones that examine values within the story and this one sounds fantastic!

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 12:15 PM

      All of the praise is most certainly deserved, Tasya! I really loved how it talks about the need to think about where stories come from and why they are the way we are. Stories that teach us to not take things at face value are so important!

  4. Lisa @ waytoofantasy

    September 30, 2020 at 8:53 AM

    Sounds like an excellent read! I’d been curious about this one myself, I might have to check it out! Thanks for the review, Kal!

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 12:17 PM

      I am really glad that I picked this one up, it was such a fun & motivating read. I hope you enjoy it if you do pick it up!

  5. Meaghan

    September 30, 2020 at 9:45 PM

    Ooooh I’m glad you ended up liking this one! It’s SUCH a satisfying book, and even though I don’t always love fairy tale retellings, it hits the sweet spot again and again, all the way through. Great review, Kal!

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 12:17 PM

      Satisfying is honestly such a good word to describe this one, Meaghan! I loved the fresh look of this retelling and the messages it carries, I finished feeling very empowered.

  6. Marie @ drizzle & hurricane books

    October 4, 2020 at 1:05 AM

    This is a wonderful review, Kal <3 I'm really looking forward to reading this, this sounds amazing! 🙂

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 2:37 PM

      Such an empowering, angering, and beautiful read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do when you pick it up!

  7. Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts

    October 4, 2020 at 8:40 PM

    YAY! I’m so happy to hear this one got your stamp of approval because 1) fairy tale retellings and 2) burn the patriarchy are both my favorite things. I 100% agree about needing more feminist retellings, and honestly, I’m glad there are finally more being published.

    1. Kal

      October 6, 2020 at 2:42 PM

      If you love retellings and burning the patriarchy, this book will NOT disappoint!!!

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