Saturday, June 2, 2018

Book Review: All The Ever Afters

Author: Danielle Teller
Publication Date: May 22, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow

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 teenaged 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 perceptive, 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."

I never thought I would see the day when I felt sorry for the evil stepmother. Danielle Teller, and her debut novel, have made me rethink everything I was ever taught about Cinderella. Her characters are well-written and deeply developed, especially the evil stepmother, Agnes. You will feel so absorbed by their captivating character traits that you will swear you are in the story right alongside them.

The story follow Agnes from the time she was a young girl of around ten or eleven and readers grow with her as she works as a laundress, through her awful upbringing, through her many struggles, as she has children of her own, as she becomes stepmother to the beautiful Elfida “Ella”, and even as Ella is married to the prince and enjoys her life in the palace. 

Ella and Agnes are contrasting characters and it is hard at times to choose the likeness of one over the other. They are completely fleshed out, have invigorating lives and backstories, and ultimately made me consider everything I know about the beloved fairy tale.

Danielle Teller’s prose is beautiful, her added twists in the story are remarkable, and her historical world building is comforting, cozy, and like something straight out of a movie. There were journal entries between every few chapters that allow readers to go from past to present, while gaining all the information needed to put together the pieces of Agnes’s story. At times the novel read slowly because the author took her time to build up to pivotal moments, but when reaching those moments, readers will be utterly and pleasantly surprised.

As for fables about good and evil and songs about glass slippers, I shall leave those to the minstrels. They can invent their own tales about Cinderella.

I know more of the princess’s history than anyone else alive, and the true tale is not as fantastical as the one sung by troubadours. 

Despite our rarefied circumstances, we have no control of our destinies. 

I was reminded of Gregory Maguire’s writing as I read All The Ever Afters.I was transported back to a world of fairytales and folk lore that I have been surrounded by my whole life. After completing Teller’s debut novel, I am looking at Cinderella through a different lens as I re-watch the Disney version as I type this review. But ultimately, I am happy that authors like Danielle Teller choose to give a voice to our villains who all too often get the bad end of the deal. 

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at William Morrow in exchange for my honest review***

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