Hello everybody. Today I have for you a non-spoilery review of Kalynn Bayron’s YA Fantasy Cinderella Is Dead, followed by an interview with the author.
It’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 . . .
My review of Cinderella Is Dead
Our main character Sophia is a fierce Black queer girl and as soon as I started the book, I immediately fell in love with her. She has a big heart and is willing to go to great lengths for what she believes in and the people she cares about. I also really liked Constance, our love interest. She was sooo swoon-worthy! I was basically in heart eyes emoji mode over her throughout the book. Constance is also a real badass and I really enjoyed the spark of action she brings to the story. I also loved the romance between Sophia and Constance. Their relationship was developed very well and their flirty scenes were on point!
Not only does this book feature a queer female lead and a beautiful F/F romance, but it also includes queer representation in its cast of supporting characters. I also appreciated that the book discusses the complexities of problematic relationships as well, including within queer couples. The author also addresses the harsh realities of being queer in a society that condemns queerness and I really liked how this was handled in the book.
The atmosphere in this book was so magical. I loved all the fairy tale elements featured in the book: dark, creepy woods, royal balls and princess dresses, magical curses, and a fair bit of witchcraft, just to mention a few. There are also several references to other fairy tales sprinkled throughout the book, which I really enjoyed.
Fairy tale with a twist
I really enjoyed how the author put her own spin on the story of Cinderella. There are still all the bits and pieces that we are familiar with from the original tale – the fairy godmother, the stepsisters, the glass slipper, Prince Charming – but nothing is quite as you might expect. The story was full of unexpected twists and exciting reveals and it was a lot of fun to try to figure out what is actually going on.
My final thoughts
This book was a wonderful retelling of Cinderella, with an amazing Black queer female main character, lots of twists and turns, a good dose of romance, beautiful writing and lots and lots of fairy tale goodness. Definitely a new favorite of mine!
Interview with Kalynn Bayron
QaS: First off, congratulations on the publication of your first book! What are some of your favorite memories from your publication journey so far?
KB: Thank you so much! I’ve had so many life altering experiences on the road to publication but a few things that I think I’ll always remember are getting an agent, getting the offer from Bloomsbury, seeing the cover for Cinderella Is Dead for the first time, and publication day! That was really special! When I found out I made the Indie Bestseller List I freaked out! I’ll always remember that.
QaS: What inspired you to write a fairy tale retelling and what drew you to Cinderella in particular for your retelling?
KB: I didn’t get to see myself or people who looked like me in fairytales. There weren’t Black princesses and there certainly weren’t Black queer princesses and I chose to remix Cinderella because it’s just so visible. Everyone knows her story. I wanted to deconstruct the parts of this story that drew my attention most; the villainous women and how a story like this is the perfect vehicle to push an insidiously heteronormative, misogynistic societal view.
QaS: Aside from Cinderella, what are some of your favorite fairy tales?
KB: Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Hansel & Gretel, and Beauty and the Beast are some of my faves.
QaS: There are several references to other fairy tales in the story, including a certain magic mirror. Would you potentially like to return to this world in future books to explore other fairy tale retellings?
KB: I hope I get a chance to do that! I have something outlined already and my protagonist is someone we saw in Cinderella Is Dead. We shall see.
QaS: From where did you draw your inspiration to create the fictional kingdom of Mersailles?
KB: It’s a bit of a nod to the French version of Cinderella by Charles Perrault, which is the very first version I ever read.
QaS: Despite being a fantasy, this book also comments on real life issues that are very relevant to our society, such as the oppression of women, the abuse of power by political leaders and homophobia. What do you think of the power of storytelling as a vehicle for social commentary?
KB: It’s absolutely a tool we can utilize to affect real change. We’ve already seen how stories can do this in a negative way. Because storytelling is fluid and constantly evolving, we have an opportunity to create a new narrative. We can be more inclusive, we can put characters from marginalized backgrounds front and center and show them that they deserve to be the heroes of their own stories. It’s exciting to think about young people reading a story like Cinderella Is Dead and being inspired to burn some oppressive systems to the ground! I’m HERE for it!
QaS: This book features an absolutely beautiful same-sex romance, but it also does not shy away from discussing problematic queer relationships, as well as the challenges of pursuing a queer relationship in a society that is not accepting of such relationships. With regards to this, what message would you like young queer readers to take away from this book?
KB: There are a vast range of queer experiences in Cinderella Is Dead. I think they each represent how varied our individual experiences are. The message is simply that any way in which you exist is valid. You don’t have to have it all figured out.
QaS: Aside from being a writer, you’re also a trained vocalist and on your website, you’ve also mentioned that music and performing arts are things that have always been an integral part of your life. Would you like to maybe write a song inspired by your book someday? Or perhaps even a song inspired by Sophia and Constance’s love story?
KB: That’s a great question! Music is, and always has been, my first love. I’m working on a short composition for Cinderella Is Dead so maybe one day soon that will be out in the world.
QaS: Finally, if you could get a magical fairy godmother makeover, what would be your dream outfit?
KB: I’m really bad at putting together outfits so I’d definitely welcome some assistance from a fairy godmother! My dream outfit is just jeans that fit my waist, butt, and legs all at the same time and a t-shirt that doesn’t make me feel like I’m being strangled. Lol.
About the author
Kalynn Bayron is the author of Cinderella Is Dead (Bloomsbury, 2020) and a classically trained vocalist. She grew up in Anchorage, Alaska. When she’s not writing you can find her listening to Ella Fitzgerald on loop, attending the theater, watching scary movies, and spending time with her kids. She currently lives in San Antonio, Texas with her family.
You can follow her online at the following: