Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review - Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire

Title: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister (Amazon)
Author: Gregory Maguire
Publisher: Regan Books
Release Date: 2000
Pages: 372
Genre: YA, Adult Fiction
Source: Own

We have all 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 looks?

Set against the 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, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household -- and the treacherous truth of her former life. (Goodreads)

Kim’s Take: This was such an interesting take on the Cinderella tale. Maguire can twist a fairytale around like nobody’s business and make you rethink the whole story. It’s almost like an insiders look into the story showing how things are not always as they seem from the outside. It also highlights some of the superstitions from historic times. Not quite as good as his other novel, Wicked which I absolutely loved, it was a great story and I’m glad I read it.

The story is told through the eyes of Iris, one of the ugly stepsisters. Iris, plain and homely, her sister Ruth, a slow witted ox of a child, and their mother, Margarethe, who seems to be brash and bossy, come to Holland when her father is killed. When their anticipated living arrangements are thwarted by the death of an uncle, they are homeless and penniless in an unfamiliar place. Margarethe begs her way into becoming the housekeeper in the home of an eccentric painter in return for food and shelter. Eventually, the girls and Margarethe end up in the wealthy home of a reclusive, unusually beautiful girl named Clara, whom Iris is meant to be a companion for.

After tragedy takes Clara’s mother, Margarethe marries Clara’s father and the children become stepsisters. Regardless of how hard Iris tries, she can not get Clara to change her reclusive ways. Soon, Clara becomes even more reclusive and confines her self to the kitchen, taking over Margarethe’s duties. Margarethe is too busy spending money and worrying about her appearance to others. She is not above offering up her beautiful stepdaughter to get what she wants.

When an opportunity arises where a Prince will be attending a ball in search of a bride, Margarethe becomes determined that Iris will be that bride, and Clara is forbidden to attend. Margarethe wants to ensure what she feels is her place in society. Even though Clara has no wishes to attend, Iris is determined that Clara will attend, and does everything in her power to make it happen.

The evening of the ball is not what Magarethe has planned at all. It ends in a rather spectacular fashion, dashing her hopes of Iris’ future as a part of the royal family. Secrets are revealed that evening, with answers to some of the questions Iris has had regarding her past and her father’s murder.

Maguire’s retelling of Cinderella changes the idea that she has evil stepsisters and highlights how evil her stepmother truly is. Maguire weaves an interesting take on a well-loved fairytale!

Kim’s Rating: 4/5


  1. I had this book once upon a time, but I gave it to a friend because it was just too overly descriptive for me and my friend was a Maguire fan.

    I do remember I liked the switcharoo in perspective, and that I liked Iris, but I also gotta say that I liked the Movie more than the book.

    As the book tended to sort of just feel long, like I was reading and reading and not making any progress.

  2. Great review, Kim! I've been wanting to read this for a while now. I've heard good things about Gregory Maguire. :) Thanks for the awesome review!

  3. Never heard of this book but your review makes me want to read it!