Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett

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.

Hardcover, 272 pages

Published June 24th 2014 by Harlequin Teen  

The Stepsister's Tale was surprisingly delightful.  In the story, we get to follow the elder of the two "ugly stepsisters" from the classic tale of Cinderella.  Jane Montjoy is not what those of us who remember the Disney version would expect: she is hardworking, caring, and impoverished.  Jane constantly has to worry about how to feed herself, her sister, and her mother -- who is living in denial of losing their fortune.  The house they live in is in shambles.  In an attempt to relieve them of their trials, mother Montjoy remarries to a man who appears to have a wealth that could save them, and also a very spoiled daughter.  The plot is filled with little twists and perspective that completely changes the context of the classic tale.

Jane's perseverance and spunk make her a character worth rooting for.  She is the low maintenance counterpart of herself from the classic.  She doesn’t care about jewels or how she looks; she cares about not freezing at night and how the cow in the barn is starving.  She has practical dreams of farming with the manners of an aristocrat.  This combines into a very complex and likable girl who I genuinely hoped things would work out for.

There is uneasiness throughout the reading experience, however, from knowing things won’t work out for the ugly stepsisters.  They don’t get the prince or get out of poverty and we know this from the original tale.  Right?  I loved how perspective can change an ending that I thought I knew.  With this character with her practicality and spark, would she even want riches and formalities?

The other reason for this uneasiness, at least for me, was that Jane has a hard life.  I was on edge the whole time just waiting for an atrocity to befall her.  Reading a book like this always left me with a sour pit in my stomach, and I don’t like that.  It’s a personal thing, so if you like being afraid for characters, maybe that aspect will be more your thing.

While being a tad on the dry side of writing, the book is very enjoyable.  Anyone who loves fairy tale retellings could find some joy in The Stepsister’s Tale.  The small twists on the classic were smart -- they didn’t completely change the story.  It made me think that maybe we’ve had Cinderella wrong this whole time.  And that was the most enjoyable part of reading this tale; I loved doubting the childhood tale since this version just makes more sense.  Though maybe not my favorite book ever, The Stepsister’s Tale proved itself worth a read.

Final Thought: 15 out of 25 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

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