REVIEW: Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly
Stepsister is a brilliant fairytale continuation with a lackluster ending (and far too many chapters!).
I wrongly assumed that Stepsister was going to be a fairytale retelling of Cinderella from the point of view of one of the ugly stepsisters. Instead it’s a continuation of the fairytale, beginning with the grotesque events of Isabelle and her sister Tavia chopping off pieces of their feet in the futile attempt to convince the prince that the glass slipper belongs to one of them (rather than their beautiful, mistreated stepsister, Ella).
Of course, we all know how that part of the story goes…
After Ella is revealed to be the prince’s love and is swept off to become a member of the royal family, Isabelle and Tavia become the most hated inhabitants of their French village. What kind of monsters sit back and let their loving, caring stepsister be maltreated, then twist the knife even further by trying to steal her chance at true love? Unfortunately it wasn’t down to Isabelle or Octavia, who were both just doing their best to fulfill their mother’s wishes.
Meanwhile, there’s a subplot following the personifications of Fate and Chance. Fate is an old crone who draws out maps of people’s lives, determining the twists and turns that their story will take. Chance, however, has decided that Isabelle deserves a second chance. He steals her map, fighting Fate on Isabelle’s behalf, desperate to prove that she can change her attitude – and therefore change her Fate – for the better, before it’s too late.
Although I found the subplot very interesting, at times I struggled to follow what was going on. That might have been because of the fact that I ended up listening to Stepsister on audiobook (my first full audiobook, ever!).
However, I think it’s more down to the fact that there is a large cast of characters, and a lot of the background characters feel unnecessary. Chance has a lot of allies, while Fate is introduced as an old crone with two sisters (and I’m still not quite sure what happened to the sisters, because I don’t remember them ever being mentioned again). This is a book I would be interested in rereading in the future, to see whether I find it easier to follow when reading it physically.
It also didn’t help that this book had so many chapters. By the end of the story we’re nearly on chapter 140, and for a book which is only 350 pages long, that’s too many. Some of the chapters were over before they’d really begun, and it made the storytelling disjointed and kept throwing me off. I found it hard to concentrate, and even harder to connect with the characters.
That being said, I did enjoy what Jennifer Donnelly did throughout Stepsister. There was a huge focus on the way that society views women and girls, and the roles that they are expected to fill. With Tavia having an intense interest in science and Isabelle being interested in war and military strategy, these girls don’t fit the typical mold a woman was expected to fill in France in this time period!
I particularly enjoyed the personification of Chance and Fate, and would happily read more books featuring these two in the future. It makes this fairytale stand out from the YA crowd by giving it such a great USP, and that’s not something I often find myself thinking about YA fairytale retellings (or continuations!).
All in all, this one didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It would have been better if the chapters had been structured better, and I also would have liked the ending to have played out a little more slowly. The story unravels painfully slowly, then the ending occurs at such a breakneck speed that I found myself wondering if I’d accidentally skipped some chapters.
Although I didn’t love Stepsister I’m still looking forward to reading Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly, and I’m glad I’ve finally picked up one of her novels as I’ve been hearing great things about her writing for years.
Thank you for reading this review,