Title: The Ugly Stepsister
Author: Aya Ling
Rating: 3.5 TURTLES: A very enjoyable read, I recommend you check it out.
*The author provided me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.
When Kat accidentally rips apart an old picture book, she's magically transported into the world of Cinderella--as Katriona, one of the ugly stepsisters! Life turns upside down now that she’s a highborn lady and must learn how to survive the social season, including how to get through the door in a huge metal hoop skirt. To get back, she'll have to complete the story, right to the end of happily ever after. But the odds are huge: the other stepsister is drop-dead gorgeous, the fairy godmother is nowhere to be found, and the prince, despite being insanely hot, openly dislikes balls. Can she ever return to the modern world?
The author approached me about reading and reviewing her novel several months ago and sent me a copy once she had ARCs ready. Despite having a rather long review list at the time, I accepted because I really like fairytale retellings, but had never read one about Cinderella.
I think my favorite thing about this book was the colorful cast. There were many different characters, but not too many to keep track of, and they all had distinct, interesting personalities. A difficult thing about fairytale retellings is fleshing out the plot further than just the short story that can be told in just a few pages when written out, and adding these extra characters and including their stories filled out this story quite well. I also liked that Ling got into the politics of this fairytale-land, since I can't imagine that a modern girl stuck in a Victorian/Industrial Revolution equivalent era would be able to realistically live there without taking serious issue with some of the politics. My one issue with this aspect of the story though was how dark it got, the disturbing stories that the main character heard were not unrealistic given the world, but some of those scenes did not match with the tone of the rest of the book, so they were a bit incongruous.
One thing I did not like as much in the beginning was that Kat, the main character struck me as shallow in the beginning. Once I saw her interest in social justice issues in the kingdom, that went away, but when she first gets transported to story world each description of a new character includes an evaluation of their beauty/hotness and how their beauty/hotness. It made a bit of sense in since in the story it is Cinderella's beauty that makes the prince fall in love with her, but it felt a bit too heavy handed to me. Also, I liked how the novel has a small story arc that takes place before and after Kat's time in fairytale-land, but I felt it was rushed and wished it had been developed more.
The Ugly Stepsister is a different take on fairytale-retellings from those that I have encountered in the past, but I definitely enjoyed my time in that world and would recommend this read to all fans of fairytales and fantasy. The characters, banter, and fleshed out, intricate plot will be sure to reel you in.