Cinderella is Dead
In Cinderella is Dead, debut author Kalynn Bayron, reimagines the world of this classic with a striking sapphic story about a determined young woman willing to risk it all to expose the secrets ...
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In Cinderella is Dead, debut author Kalynn Bayron, reimagines the world of this classic with a striking sapphic story about a determined young woman willing to risk it all to expose the secrets and lies at the very heart of Cinderella’s mythic ‘happily ever-after’ in order to free a kingdom.
Content Warning: Cinderella is Dead takes care to avoid wallowing in pain or trauma but neither does it flinch from acknowledging that violence goes hand-in-hand with oppressive regimes. So, have a care because where patriarchy holds sway, abuse – physical and emotional – exist.
As far as sixteen-year-old Sophia Grimmins’s concerned getting her invitation means one only thing. It’s time to run. But her best friend and first love, Erin, refuses to flee Lillie. Erin thinks Sophia’s refusal to submit is selfish and dangerous. To Erin, there’s no hope of outrunning their future. She won’t consider running away and is deeply resentful that Sophia won’t stop pushing her to choose them over all else. Unable to leave her behind, Sophia reluctantly prepares for the ball.
It’s 200 years after that fateful night when Cinderella met Prince Charming and young women still attend an Annual Ball at the palace. Not a single girl hopes for a magical love connection. They just want to survive the night unscathed.
In the years since Cinderella, the Kingdom of Mersailles has fallen under the thumb of increasingly brutal rulers. The current king, Manford, is a vain and cruel tyrant. He demands obedience unto death and uses the myth of Cinderella to force women and girls into subservience. Men are the head of the house and Manford encourages his every edict be enforced, brutally if need be. To make matters worse, any girl who fails to be chosen by her third ball is “forfeited” to the crown.
Her parents know she has no interest in marrying a man. They also know Sophia risks death the more she persists in speaking against the King and his mandates. So, despite her belligerent resistance, they take on debt to ensure her beauty’s shown to its opulent best. They hope she’ll luck out and the man who choses her will appreciate and care for her. Because in Lillie, it’s not unheard of for a wife to go missing; leaving a man free to choose a new bride at the next ball.
The law requires every girl memorize the tale of Cinderella and strive to be worthy of a visit from a fairy godmother. But Sophia doesn’t believe in magic or put faith in fairy tales. When an unexpected ally’s attempt to save Sophia goes violently wrong; she flees into the night. No one will stand against King Manford. Fear and hopelessness force even her parents to drive her away. A chance meeting with a charming rebel named Constance becomes her only way forward into exile. But Sophia has absolutely no intention of quietly submitting to fate.
Taking on a classic is risky. People attach feelings to traditional fairytales like Cinderella. They’re often reluctant – if not downright hostile – to let go and make room for new stories in a known universe. But, for those unseen by the traditional narrative, it begs the question, what about the young men and women forced to conform to ill-fitting stereotypes to belong even in a fantasyland? Is the world of Cinderella so one dimensional it can’t embrace its missing pieces…or people?
Thankfully, when done right, reimagining a narrative can breathe vibrant new life into well-loved story. Bayron boldly pulls the world beyond Cinderella’s glass slipper into startling focus by asking two questions, 1) what if it turns out this grand tale of ‘happily-ever-after’ is nothing but a lie and 2) what happens to women who love women (or men who love men) forced to attend a ball designed to couple people up?
Prepare to reshuffle everything you think you know about Cinderella and her stepsisters because this is a quick-paced yet captivating tale fueled by angst, anger, a burning desire to live one’s truth, and a refusal to believe that evil can’t be defeated. And like any good fairytale, there’s romance, betrayal, and weighty choices with dire consequences enough to weave their own kind of magic. With Cinderella is Dead, Bayron’s written a new chapter in the legend of Cinderella that opens the door to a world of intrigue just waiting to be told.
I don’t know about you but following a determined knife-wielding Black girl hellbent on winning the right to live and love as she pleases is an excellent way to lure me into a story. For those unfamiliar with the story of Cinderella, some of Bayron’s world-building may move too quickly and feel too shallow. But the secrets to be discovered set off an Easter-egg riddled scavenger hunt worthy of the strong-willed young women at the center of it all.
Cinderella is Dead leads with its queer characters as a natural part of this world and a necessary part of its narrative (as it should feel). This leading lady has no interest in catching any man’s eye and the only thing she wants more than being with her girl is to topple the king’s malignant patriarchal rule that’s keeping them apart. It’s written in such a way that it’s impossible to envision Sophia feeling any other way. It feels real and relevant without ever falling out of step with the story direction. An inclusive world makes room for a deeper look at the lives beyond the palace walls. Getting invested in Sophia and Constance is easy. Tying their fate together in a world riddled with blood magic, dark rituals, and curses to be broken creates all the necessary elements to sowing the seeds of a trope-flipping rebellion.
It should be noted, that while the main POV is that of a sixteen-year-old girl, the story’s themes are mature and confronted head-on with refreshingly relatable emotional arcs. Sophia’s development is at turns frustratingly hopeful but she’s no fool. The plot and her personality development could’ve been served by a few more moments of reflection or interactions with people living in Lillie to flesh out some of the uneven spots in the larger world-building. But the lack doesn’t detract from the welcome openness and inviting tone to Bayron’s writing style. In fact, it’s a choice that leaves you extremely curious about Constance’s past as well as excited to see Sophia come into her own while running headlong into danger.
With such a headstrong lead and so many story points to bring into alignment, there are times when secondary – but vitally important – characters feel slightly overshadowed. The second half of the story moves a touch too quickly to fully develop every character. It doesn’t detract from the story. Even the character’s blind spots ultimately work in service to the whole. In fact, it’ll leave you wondering how much more there is to learn about them in (hopefully) future tales because this is a universe that begs to be expanded.
That being said, this is a story about so much more than simply subverting the dominant paradigm or crushing the patriarchy. Cinderella is Dead invites readers on an adventure where accepting love, demanding to be seen, and refusing to give up on yourself are the first steps in saving world.
You’ll come away revitalized and hoping Kalynn Bayron plans to give us more in the same vein because it’s always good to question the tales you’ve been told.
Cinderella in Dead published on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.