Stepsister Review

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is the perfect retelling of the Cinderella story. Trust me, I’ve read a lot of them. Ella Enchanted was not as ‘strong female characters’ as it boosts and anything worse than that novel is not even worth mentioning. But this one has it all, multiple amazing female protagonists (and antagonists), the type of suspense that makes you (the reader) feel the gravity of a situation too, and best of all multiple amazing action scenes where women take the front row. Stand aside Cinderella there’s a new girl on the block.
Spoilers Below
Seriously, this book is so good, and I totally wasn’t expecting it at all. It basically hit me like a brick falling out of the fairy tale retelling sky. I’m so glad I bought this one before I read it because now I’m going to be rereading this book whenever I need some amazing feminist action!
It actually was a lot like “Girls with Sharp Sticks”, another one of my favorite books where a group of girls are told they are not good enough, or they should behave more like ladies and they end up outperforming all of their critics. I love a story like that.
I especially liked the wolf metaphor. Specifically, how the author said the wolf would consume its host if it was not let out and I totally agree that anger will consume you if you don’t find a way to live with it. I also loved how the author kept coming back to the metaphor throughout the book and didn’t just write it down then forget about it. For a second when the metaphor was being introduced I actually thought that the author was incorporating a little red riding hood twist onto the story, and I guess it kind of is. But what the author chose to do was so much better than any red cape.
I also adored the fairy godmother. I didn’t expect her to be in the book at all and when the totally badass fairy queen appeared I was like “who’s this?”. I loved her character though and the way she was unapologetically both nice and cruel at the same time really made any part in the book where she appeared, a thrilling ride to read. I also loved all her outfits; the one I’m thinking of right now is the beetle dress with the iridescent sheen.
I also loved to hate Fate and her sisters(? I think they were sisters but that relationship was never actually established). They were so good together and my one problem with the entire book was that we weren’t able to see more of the two younger ones. I think this book is a standalone, so I don’t think there will be another chance to explore the other two’s characters. However, I would love to see more of them anyway (I do frown on the idea of a sequel for this book though. I really is the perfect standalone).
On the topic of Fate herself, every time she made things difficult for Isabelle, I was gridding my teeth in anger. Their relationship kind of mirrored that of Ella and Mamman, where one was the tormentor and the other was too nice to notice or care. When she sent Isabelle’s horse to die, I couldn’t take it and I literally sighed in relief once Isabelle was able to rescue him.
Chance, was kind of an annoying character for me, but for reasons that I can’t really complain about. I was very irritated whenever he didn’t do anything to help Isabelle directly even though he couldn’t without breaking his deal with Fate. I also was very annoyed when all he did to persuade her was put on a play, however, after the play was done my annoyance was gone.
Speaking of that play, I just loved it! There are so many stories and books and songs and movies about great generals most of whom are men. But this play was just magical. I want it to be adapted and shown around the world. My favorite of the great female generals was Elizabeth the I. Did you know she actually led her soldiers into battle, wearing armor, as their queen!?
I have to say, Tavi was also a great character. I started off not liking her, as you do. But after I learned more about her character I really began to like her a lot more. It was so funny when she was showing off to Hugo about all the math she knew but he didn’t. I also loved hearing how she tried to keep doing math even while they were at Madame’s. Like with the peas and the cabbage leaves! That was amazing!
Speaking of Hugo, his character was super funny too! I loved his and Tavi’s relationship. They were always squabbling and it was hilarious. For a while, I though they might end up together, but it turned out not. I actually was really happy Hugo was able to marry Odette at the end though. They were really a perfect couple.
I think the climax was absolutely perfect. That end scene, where Isabelle was fighting Volkmar was perfect!!! Kisses finger like Italian chef. Like the action was amazing; Isabelles tactics were amazing and (about to get a tiny bit gory here) the way she cut off Volkmar’s head was the perfect ending. I also really liked how the author ended the book with a time jump. At first I was a bit peeved, but after I thought about it for a while I agreed it was the best decision.
Lastly, I loved how Ella was not as perfect as she seemed. It was the best ending for a book like this where readers already came in thinking Cinderella was the good one. The author played off our prior knowledge to ensure her reveal would be unpredictable and I loved it. I never saw it coming and it pulled the rug out from under us readers just perfectly.
Overall, I loved this retelling and that is not a sentence I say lightly. It takes a lot to impress me with a fairy tale retelling. This new take was perfect though and I think it was the aspect of focusing on a different, misjudged character that really made it. If I have to read another book about boring old Cinderella I’ll probably hate the entire fairy tale forever. In my mind, this is now the only version of Cinderella and it has replaced the original. The stepsisters are also now my favorite characters and overall I just loved this new take on the original. It seems have I found a new book that will grace the beautiful, virtual wood of my favorites shelf. I would recommend this to anyone who liked “Girls with Sharp Sticks”, anyone who really needs a good fairy tale retelling in their lives, anyone who wants an amazing feminist book and lastly, anyone who thinks they know the real story of Cinderella. Prepare to have your minds blown!

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