What really happened after the clock struck midnight? Jane Montjoy is tired of being a lady. She's tired of pretending to live up to the standards of her mother's noble family—especially now that the family's wealth is gone and their stately mansion has fallen to ruin. It's hard enough that she must tend to the animals and find a way to feed her mother and her little sister each day. Jane's burden only gets worse after her mother returns from a trip to town with a new stepfather and stepsister in tow. Despite the family's struggle to prepare for the long winter ahead, Jane's stepfather remains determined to give his beautiful but spoiled child her every desire. When her stepfather suddenly dies, leaving nothing but debts and a bereaved daughter behind, it seems to Jane that her family is destined for eternal unhappiness. But a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate…. From the handsome prince to the evil stepsister, nothing is quite as it seems in Tracy Barrett's stunning retelling of the classic Cinderella tale.
The Stepsister's TaleFeatured
As one can surmise from the title, Barrett’s retelling is from the perspective of one of the so-called ugly stepsisters to Cinderella. This alone isn’t especially new; such postmodern spins have been done before. Still, I think that Barrett took it a couple of steps further than anything I’ve personally encountered before. She twisted the traditional elements of the fairy tale around really nicely to make the stepsisters the protagonists.
Isabella, the Cinderella, seems at first to be a monstrous brat, beloved of her father and disdainful of her new home and family members. Barrett could easily have left the story there, but takes the time to show another side to Isabella. She’s not the antagonist of the retold fairy tale, which I think is my favorite thing. In this version, the stepsiblings can learn to be friends. The end result sends wonderfully empowering messages.
Jane and her younger sister, Maude, work really hard to keep the family together, as their house crumbles around them. Their mother lives in delusions of grandeur, unable to accept the straits into which the family has fallen. Jane and Maude do everything around the house: cleaning, cooking, searching for food, and taking care of what livestock remains. The fact that they do so much of the hard work makes them much more sympathetic than usual.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Though I liked the concept a lot, the execution definitely left me whelmed. Despite its brevity, The Stepsister’s Tale felt long. Jane and Maude aren’t particularly interesting people I didn’t find and none of the characters felt real to me. I especially found Jane’s romance tedious with its constant repetition. Indeed, Jane’s relationship with Isabella is much the same. Everyone is constantly misunderstanding everyone else, talking about it, and then talking about it some more. I just was not invested at all.
The Final Verdict:
The Stepsister’s Tale is worth a read if, like me, you cannot get enough of comparing the way different authors put their own spin on a fairy tale. However, if you do not like slower-paced books, you will probably want to pass on this one.