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The Stepsister's Tale

por Tracy Barrett

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Jane cares for her mother and sister until her stepfather dies, leaving nothing but debts and Jane's spoiled stepsister behind, but a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate.
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Review courtesy of Dark Faerie Tales

Quick & Dirty: This retelling was more of a survival story the first half, but I enjoyed it all the same.

Opening Sentence: The house- it was too small to be called a palace- sat at the top of a hill, overlooking thick woods and a river.

The Review:

Jane, her mother, and her sister used to be a part of a rich family that lived in a stately mansion. Years later, after the death of her father and him gambling away their fortune, the beautiful home is falling to ruins. Jane lives every day unsure if her belly will be full the next. Her mother refuses to see how their lives have changed, instead stuck in the ghost of a life that’s over. Until Jane’s mother meets a man whom she believes can solve all of her problems. He has a daughter, Isabella, who is spoiled and rude. Just as their lives take a turn for the better, Isabella’s father dies, leaving them with little money and one more mouth to feed. Isabella is not the sweet Cinderella of the fairytales, and when the ball comes around, it will play out more different than you could ever imagined.

Before you read The Stepsister’s Tale, you need to understand something about it. This novel is more of a survival story than a retelling. There are a few very obvious similarities, but it’s also a story of its own, born from the idea of the classic. A lot of it centers around finding the next meal, the next penny, and just managing to get by. There are many instances where Jane is out in the woods searching for berries, or mushrooms, or bird’s eggs, to feed her family for the day. She and her sister are the only ones doing the real work, with Isabella being so lazy and their mother too ladylike to dirty her hands. I really appreciated how they got down to the grit and worked hard for everything they had. They might have lived in a stately mansion, but it was decaying, old, and falling apart. The only way that they managed to survive was through hard work and each other. There was that strong family bond between the two sisters that I liked seeing.

Jane narrated the story, and through her eyes, I saw a whole new side to Cinderella, one I despised. The fact that the book could change my opinion so thoroughly of this classic princess seems to prove that it did its job as a retelling. It put a new, unique spin on a story that’s been told countless times through countless different books, legends, and mouths. There were a lot of facets to Jane’s character I really enjoyed. She was a realistic, relatable narrator. She did what she needed to do to help her family, and even if that meant getting dirt-studded knees and ripped clothing, she did it. There was also a degree of vulnerability to her character as well that I enjoyed. She wasn’t weak, but she definitely had a realistic part of her that was filled with doubts, like any other teenager or human. So did her sister, who had to grow up a little early in the harsh circumstances, but was still a tad bit naive.

There were many themes that played a part in this novel. One was pride. How far will you go to keep your dignity? For the “wicked stepmother”, that was a whole lot longer than I expected her to hold out. At the beginning of the story, when she married Isabella’s father, she saw that as a way to restore the family to its former riches and glory. That failed. She was so convinced that they were just going through a rough spot in terms of money, and did not help either of the sisters with the chores, because working was for the servants. It got a little annoying. I wanted her to get a wakeup call- eventually, she did, but she held her beliefs for a long time. At one point Jane mentions that she wouldn’t let them have maintain a garden, because though picking berries and sewing dresses back together may be considered respectable for two young girls, gardening wasn’t. It was infuriating to watch.

Most of this novel didn’t even concern a ball. Again, mostly it was a survival story. But when the ball did come along, it played out a whole lot differently than it did in the original. It was enjoyable to see the fresh look. In the end, Isabella gets her redemption, and the girls work things out, and that helped my vicious opinion of her lesson. In any case, I found this book enjoyable. One subplot included a love interest, Will. Their relationship was very hot and cold, but I didn’t exactly disapprove. He seemed nice enough and he helped Jane to see what really mattered, in the grand scheme of things. There was also a brief epilogue that I really enjoyed. I liked seeing where all the characters ended up and how they felt about it. I thought that the pacing could have been faster, but the characters were strong and the plot stable, so altogether, I really enjoyed The Stepsister’s Tale.

Notable Scene:

Jane caught her breath. The girl looked unlike anyone she had ever seen before. Her hair was of that pale brown called ash-blonde, and it hung to her waist in shiny waves. Her oval face was a clear, delicate white, and she had pale pink cheek and dainty red lips.

FTC Advisory: HarperTeen provided me with a copy of The Stepsister’s Tale. No goody bags, sponsorships, “material connections,” or bribes were exchanged for my review. ( )
  DarkFaerieTales | Apr 15, 2015 |
Okay, let me start this out by saying that I am not a frequent reader of retellings, but I was also not a huge fairy tale fan, even as a child. I just couldn't picture them being even remotely realistic as a child, and that annoyed me.

Enter the Adult Lisa now, and I can see the beauty in them. I haven't really read a lot of fairy tale retellings, so I really did not know what to expect. But the story seemed interesting enough that I requested it on Netgalley to see what the fuss was all about.

I found the story both enchanting and frustrating. Isabella irritated me beyond belief in the beginning, and then entranced me in the end.

I really disliked the mother, though. She was in so far removed from the reality of the ruin and disarray that they lived in that she shut down and ignored the life her children were having to live. I found that both depressing and infuriating.

Isabella, of course, was the evil step-sibling personified. I imagine if a child were to hear this version of the story, without hearing the ending, they would shudder in fear if a parent were to remarry, afraid that this is what they will end up with for a new "family."

Overall, I felt that the story was creative, but there were a few subplots that I felt could have been a little bit better developed, like the people in the woods. I did, however, enjoy the story enough to curiously check my library for other titles by the same author. If you are a fan of retellings, you definitely should give this one a try. ( )
  destinyisntfree | Feb 28, 2015 |
Okay, let me start this out by saying that I am not a frequent reader of retellings, but I was also not a huge fairy tale fan, even as a child. I just couldn't picture them being even remotely realistic as a child, and that annoyed me.

Enter the Adult Lisa now, and I can see the beauty in them. I haven't really read a lot of fairy tale retellings, so I really did not know what to expect. But the story seemed interesting enough that I requested it on Netgalley to see what the fuss was all about.

I found the story both enchanting and frustrating. Isabella irritated me beyond belief in the beginning, and then entranced me in the end.

I really disliked the mother, though. She was in so far removed from the reality of the ruin and disarray that they lived in that she shut down and ignored the life her children were having to live. I found that both depressing and infuriating.

Isabella, of course, was the evil step-sibling personified. I imagine if a child were to hear this version of the story, without hearing the ending, they would shudder in fear if a parent were to remarry, afraid that this is what they will end up with for a new "family."

Overall, I felt that the story was creative, but there were a few subplots that I felt could have been a little bit better developed, like the people in the woods. I did, however, enjoy the story enough to curiously check my library for other titles by the same author. If you are a fan of retellings, you definitely should give this one a try. ( )
  destinyisntfree | Feb 28, 2015 |
Jane Montjoy has been buried under a whole bunch of things; her mother's delusions about their home, their status in the community, her responsibility to keep their fragile lifestyle intact, taking care of their cow, aging carriage horse and goats, not to mention providing love and support to her little sister Maude. Their father drank away all the family assets and died after leaving home following an argument with their mother.
She's wondering when her mother will return to their decaying estate after a trip to a nearby city to barter butter and cheese for things they can't grow or make. When her mother does return, she's accompanied by a new husband and a very pretty, but spoiled stepdaughter, Isabella.
Times are hard for everyone. The king is old and his spoiled, arrogant son has banned all hunting and fishing, making survival for the folk who live in the woods, extremely challenging. Jane is caught between wanting to have a connection to those she knows, particularly Hannah, the herb-woman who has been teaching her sister which plants treat what ailments, and abiding by the expectations her mother's denial about their situation places upon her.
When winter approaches, their lot becomes even harder. Their new stepfather contracts an illness and dies, leaving them with the responsibility for looking after Isabella, who reacts to her grief with spite and pettiness. Before his death, the stepfather hired some of the forest people to repair the roof. One man fell, breaking a leg, but none of the men were ever paid, creating hard feelings and mistrust between Jane's family and most of the forest folk. However her eye caught that of Will, one of the boys helping and something sparked.
When she can, Jane leaves whey and other dairy products on a rock for the forest people, who begin leaving things in return. Jane and her family reach a point where they have no food and no wood to heat. While she and her sister are off looking for anything to use as food or fuel, they become lost, but Jane sees a mysterious girl flitting ahead of them. She wonders whether this is a fairy or a real girl. The mysterious girl leads them back to the old hunting lodge their father owned and they can get home safely. Jane can't put the mystery figure out of her mind and takes tassels torn from an old piece of fabric to mark her ay while trying to find the girl.
She's Annie, Will's sister and thus begins a new challenge for Jane, that of realizing she's possibly falling in love with someone her mother would never approve of. What follows is enthralling and a terrific retelling of Cinderella, full of tension, twists and turns and an extremely satisfying ending. In the acknowledgments, the author says she wrestled with this book for a long time, trying to do the retelling right. I think she totally nailed it and I bet mature tweens and teens liking a read with a bit of fantasy and romance will agree. ( )
  sennebec | Sep 25, 2014 |
For more reviews, Cover Snark and more, visit A Reader of Fictions.

My friends thus far have not been huge fans of The Stepsister’s Tale. It’s a testament to my obsession with fairy tale retellings that I requested it anyway. Plus, I’d read a book by Barrett before and I liked it, so I wanted to give this book a fair shot. All told, I can totally see why people wouldn’t like this, but I found it pleasant enough. Barrett manages to put a nice spin on the story, but The Stepsister’s Tale lacks the spark that would make it truly great.

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.

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 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. ( )
  A_Reader_of_Fictions | Aug 21, 2014 |
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Jane cares for her mother and sister until her stepfather dies, leaving nothing but debts and Jane's spoiled stepsister behind, but a mysterious boy from the woods and an invitation to a royal ball are certain to change her fate.

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