Bad Ass in a Ballgown: A Review of Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron
One of my biggest regrets of 2020 is waiting until the last day of the year to read Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron.
Seriously, this book is that good! It should have been on my listicle from last week but I sadly didn’t read this till New Years Eve. Why did I wait so long to read this masterpiece!?
It has magic. It has LGBTQIA+ characters. It has feminism. It has badass female leads. It has it all!
Cinderella is Dead follows 16-year-old Sophia who lives in the dystopian land of Lille. Each year every eligible young woman must attend a ball in hopes of finding a husband. If a husband is not found after three visits to this annual ball, any unmarried woman is forced to become an old, “forfeit” maid.
Two hundred years prior, Cinderella lived and ruled the land with her husband Prince Charming until her untimely death. Those 200-years ago, Cinderella went to the famous ball with the help of her fairy godmother and it was there that she and the prince immediately fell in love…or so the story goes.
Since Cinderella lived, Lille has turned into the dystopian land Sophia knows all too well. Lille is a place where women are treated as lesser people. Women are objects that belong to the men they have married. They have no rights and all they can hope for in life is a semi-decent husband. It’s a horrible time. This ball is supposedly held every year in Cinderella’s honor. It’s this land’s belief that all women must find a husband and elevate one’s social status in order to be worth anything. And all that is needed to do so is a wear a fancy dress and be a “gentle lady” as Cinderella once did. Lille is absolutely disgusting.
Re-enter Sophia though. On the night of this ball, she escapes the palace in hopes of escaping Lille entirely. This heroine is not going to be some old man’s prize. While on the run from the palace guards, Sophia finds refuge in Cinderella’s mausoleum. It’s there that our heroine meets the last remaining relative of Cinderella’s family: a fiery young woman by the name of Constance. Constance shows Sophia that there are others out there who don’t agree with the way Lille is governed and the two begin to plot how to take down the king.
Before I continue, a trigger warning is in order for this book. While I will not bring it up in the review, physical abuse towards women and children is very prevalent in the book. And while nothing is explicitly stated in the book, sexual abuse is also mentioned. As I said, I will not be talking about either of these issues in my review, but I understand if anyone needs to click away. There are also varying levels of homophobia in this book. Again, this will not be talked about overly much in the review, but please be aware it is also prevalent in the story.
Now, why didn’t I read this back in the summer when it was released!? Why did I wait nearly six months to read it?! This book is bananas! From start to finish I felt like I was a part of this world. I don’t want to be in the world of Lille but Bayron’s writing transported me into this dystopian universe.
Every little detail is perfectly described. Each character has a recognizable face and voice in my head. Every setting and location has life to it, and most importantly, I know the layout of this world and how every place is connected to the other locations.
You know when maps are included in books because the landscape is so expansive and then you keep flipping back to it because you don’t know where the characters are supposed to be? Well, you don’t need that for this one. The land is fairly expansive, but I was never once lost.
It’s not just the locations and details that are beautifully described. As I said before, the characters are just as vivid. No two characters are alike in Cinderella is Dead. You have head-strong young women, young women who have nothing left to lose, manipulative bastards, two-faced croons, and those who have nothing left to believe in other than magic.
I could spend this whole review just talking about the plethora of characters in this book, but I’m only going to go into detail on the two main characters. I adore both of the heroines so much. Sophia and Constance are both badass, strong women in such different ways and I love them equally.
Constance, Cinderella’s descendant, is very much a heroine who is strong in the traditional sense of the word. She’s the one who will kick butt and take names. She’ll cut her enemy first and think about consequences never. She grew up on the run and has no issue living off the land and moving around all the time.
She’s not all brawn though. She has plans to take down the government of Lille. Constance has thought through her options and knows that she doesn’t have enough people, weapons, or means to attack the palace head on. This girl is not dumb. It could be easy to say that Constance is the muscle to Sophia’s brains, but that’s simply not true. Constance has the experience, ideas, she knows the true history of Lille, but she just doesn’t have the manpower to take down the king until Sophia comes along.
Sophia is an outspoken character. She’s grown up in Lille and knows what happens to anyone, especially any woman, who is different. She doesn’t believe in Lille’s ideals and wants out. But unlike Constance, she doesn’t know what she can do. The only plan Sophia has is to escape Lille by crossing the border. It’s not that great of a plan because escapees who survive are few and far between.
Now, Sophia doesn’t know the true history of Lille until Constance comes along, but Sophia quickly becomes Constance’s voice; more specifically, her voice of reason. Sophia is the one who knows the true hardships and reality of life inside Lille. Sophia is the one who can convince others to join the rebel side when need be. In short, our main character is more polished than Constance; she’s a bit more of a diplomat when the story calls for it.
The pair are strong on their own and much stronger together. There is no claiming that either character is weak; they are both strong in their own individual way. Teamwork makes the dream work, and the dream certainly works when these two are together.
Remember when I mentioned there were LGBTQIA+ characters in this book? Well Constance and Sophia are those characters. There are actually a lot of LGBTQIA+ characters that make up the supporting cast, but these two are the main focus of this story.
Being part of the LGBTQIA+ community is one of the main reasons why Sophia wants out of Lille. Homophobia is rampant in these parts. She would much rather marry her childhood best friend over a random man who tries to buy her at the ball.
One of my favorite parts of this book is that while there is a love story in it, it is not the focus of the story. Love plays a large role in the story, but the focus is on dismantling this oppressing government and fighting for equal rights. There just so happens to be a love story in this book as well. And that love story just so happens to involve women loving women.
Now, I’m going to give away a huge spoiler to Cinderella is Dead so click away if you don’t want anything given away.
Sophia does not end up with her best friend Erin. Constance and Sophia are closer to being in a relationship in the end than Sophia and Erin are. Although it’s never stated officially if anyone ends up together in the end, it is heavily implied.
I adore Sophia with Constance, I feel like these two complete one another. I feel like these two help the other grow as people which should be the main goal of any relationship. They have great respect for one another. Their relationship begins with a friendship and a mutual crush that grows over the course of the story.
It’s not just their relationship that I really appreciate. Bayron does not shy away from discussing problematic relationships. I’m not just talking about the the trigger warning I mentioned at the start of this review. Bayron takes time to discuss problematic relationships within LGBTQIA+ couples as well; see Erin and Sophia for example as they are constantly at odds with one another and what they want from the other. This topic is very well done and it’s an important conversation to have both when discussing this book and just in general.
Truly my only qualm with this book is how much I was able to guess what was about to happen at times. It’s not even that much of an issue seeing as Bayron created the story to be this way. There are multiple points during this book where I had an “ah-ha” moment and knew what the next few chapters were going to be about.
I was able to guess that Cinderella’s fairy godmother was going to still be alive. I was able to guess that Prince Charming was the only king Lille had seen in 200-years. And I was able to guess Cinderella was going to be risen from the dead. Listen, I gave y’all two spoiler warnings in this review. If you didn’t want all these spoilers, you should have clicked away. Anyway, I was able to determine all these points due to context clues in the story, and like I said, the book was created to be this way.
There were many big plot points that I didn’t guess, or that I guessed incorrectly. But I always prefer to not guess what will happen in a book; I don’t get enjoyment from figuring out who the killer is or what will transpire. Sometimes I enjoy speculating what will happen, but for the most part I like being surprised and I like stories that are twisty. Cinderella is Dead isn’t necessarily that.
Sure, this is more of a personal preference than major issue with the book, but I still want to mention it. I just feel like there could be a lot more surprises or shocking moments had the context clues not given as many things away as they did.
Truthfully, I’m more or less grasping at straws trying to give some constructive criticism to this review. This is one of my new favorite books and is going to be one that I’ll suggest to friends and family who want book recommendations; it’s just so good!
Bayron has proven to me, in a single book mind you, that she can take a well known tale like Cinderella and turn it on its head. Her mind is pure magic! There are so many aspects of Cinderella is Dead that I still didn’t expect despite my previous complaint. I would love to read a prequel from Cinderella’s point of view because the small exposition of Cinderella’s actual story was not enough for me. I need more! Kalynn Bayron, if you are out there reading this, a prequel from Cinderella’s POV would make a great companion piece. I’ll also give you a working title: Cinderella is Alive. You can have that, I don’t need or want any credit, you can take that title. I just want a prequel! Pretty please with sprinkles on top.
Kalynn Bayron is an author I’m always going to have my eye on. I know she has a new book, This Poison Heart, coming out this year that I’ll definitely be pre-ordering, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes from her mind. Seriously, pick up a copy of Cinderella is Dead, you won’t regret it!
Next week, we’ll be continuing January’s royalty theme and return to the world of vampire royalty with book two of the Vampire Royals series: The Gala. The Vampire Royals books came in much quicker than I expected they would so get ready for the rest of the three-part series! It’s going to be a wild ride you won’t want to miss.