I have to give my friend Dann credit for recently snagging me a copy of "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" (368 pages) by Gregory Maguire. I had been wanting to see what else Maguire had to offer besides his "Wicked Years" novels based on the land of Oz. From the dust jacket of the book:
"From Gregory Maguire, the acclaimed author of 'Wicked,' comes his much-anticipated second novel, a brilliant and provocative retelling of the timeless Cinderella tale.
We all have heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty . . . and what curses accompanied Cinderella's exquisite looks?
Set against the rich backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, 'Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister' tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris's path quickly becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister.
While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, burning all memories of her past, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household--and the treacherous truth of her former life.
Far more than a mere fairy-tale, 'Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister' is a novel of beauty and betrayal, illusion and understanding, reminding us that deception can be unearthed--and love unveiled--in the most unexpected of places."
I think Maguire really succeeds in his retelling of Cinderella. Here the read is more like a historical fiction version of Cinderella rather than just a retelling, maybe not as good as "Wicked" but I think a litter smarter.
As usual Maguire's characters are interesting even while they may not always be endearing. The only character in the novel who most resembles themselves from Cinderella would probably be the role of the step-mother but in this tale her motivations and actions could be construed as necessary out of a slanted view of taking care of her family.
A couple of twists during and after the Ball really propelled this novel for me from a three star to a four star review on Goodreads. Luckily Maguire closes the story with most questions answered, something he never seemed to do very well in the "Wicked Years" books.
Some of the writing is clunky but not overly detrimental to the story. Maguire is also very proud of his vocabulary skills.
Clara's character (Cinderella) goes through the biggest transformation in the novel yet I like her very little, which was probably the point. She has a minor act of redemption near the end but it's too little too late to salvage any positive feelings for her.
Names and places throughout Holland. Yuck.
A nice little tale about the Cinderella myth. Some readers may be a little disappointed that story pretty much ends at the same place as the original Cinderella; however, there's a nice little epilogue that informs the reader on the outcome of all the major players in the book. Recommended for fans of Maguire and the genre (fairy tale historical fiction?).