Book Review: All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller

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All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller
William Morrow Books, 2018
ARC, 384 pages

Synopsis:

In the vein of Wicked; The Woodcutter; and Boy, Snow, Bird; a luminous reimagining of a classic tale, told from the perspective of Agnes, Cinderella’s “evil” stepmother.

We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?

As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story…

A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice when she is only ten years old. Using her wits and ingenuity, she escapes her tyrannical matron and makes her way toward a hopeful future. When the teenage Agnes is seduced by an older man and becomes pregnant, she is transformed by love for her child. Once again left penniless, Agnes has no choice but to return to servitude at the manor she thought she had left behind. Her new position is nursemaid to Ella, an otherworldly infant. She struggles to love the child, who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, eventually, the celebrated princess who embodies everyone’s unattainable fantasies. The story of their relationship reveals that nothing is what it seems, that beauty is not always desirable, and that love can take on many guises.

Lyrically told, emotionally evocative, and brilliantly perception, All the Ever Afters explores the hidden complexities that lie beneath classic tales of good and evil, all the while showing us that how we confront adversity reveals a more profound, and ultimately more important, truth than the ideal of “happily ever after.”

Review:

I received this book from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I love fairytale retellings. Or rather, I love the idea of them and I’m always picking them up to read but I’m also very particular about them. I’ve always felt that fairytale retellings can go either way – they can be amazing reimaginings of beloved classics… or you can end up with a lacklustre should-have-left-the-classic-alone sort of tale. But the funny thing here is that I somehow knew just from reading the synopsis for All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller, that I was going to enjoy this one immensely. I was not let down.

I think what I truly enjoyed about this novel is the grounding of the magic of the original story. As lovely and magical as the classic tale is, I find that there can be magic found even without the help of magic and spells. In All the Ever Afters, we are brought into Cinderella’s stepmother’s life. Her early beginnings, the struggles, the love, the heartbreak, and a truly rich and emotional back story for a character that we have always recognized as a “bad guy.” There is something powerful about giving names to characters and while we have always referred to her as “Cinderella’s evil stepmother,” I felt that the simple act of naming her – Agnes – grounded her and she became a character that I could relate to, empathize with, and root for.

In this story, there are no truly bad or good characters – it’s not quite so set in stone like in the classic fairytales. Rather, everyone is driven by their social status and circumstances that life has presented to them. They take hold of opportunities, they are beaten down by the rules and restrictions of society, and they also find the ways in which they can rise above and make it through. Danielle Teller is able to also bring to light the issues of social inequality and discrimination in this story – letting more complex issues become a part of this story beyond that of a princess finding her prince charming. I absolutely enjoyed this retelling and loved the writing style that Danielle Teller used to weave this non-magical magical story.

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for sending me this book to read and review.

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