In all the versions of Cinderella that we know, the ugly sisters are just that: ugly. Ugly faces, ugly minds, ugly hearts. But what was it that made them this way? And is it too late for them to change their ways? This is the context for Stepsister, picking up where Cinderella, glass slipper in hand, leaves for the palace with Prince Charming, leaving her stepsisters Isabelle and Octavia broken and bleeding (we're going with the Grimm version of events here) in her wake.
Octavia is a bright girl. Fascinated by maths and science, she longs to make a discovery that will change the course of history. Isabelle loves riding and sword fighting. As far as society is concerned none of these are suitable female pursuits, and so the sisters have spent their lives being forced to be something they are not. But now word has spread about Ella and how her family treated her, and this society that Isabelle and Tavi tried so hard to be part of has turned its back on them.
Can a girl change her destiny? Fate doesn't think so. Lives are carefully, and literally, mapped out by her hand. Change is almost impossible. But the Marquis de Chance has other ideas. And so begins a battle of wits that will leave Isabelle caught in the crossfire, fighting for her life as Fate and Chance fight over it. And with the brutal Volkmar fighting his way across France, leaving armies and villages slaughtered in his wake, time is running out for all of them...
I've not read that much YA to compare Stepsister with, but as a massive fan of Caraval I found lots to enjoy here. Themes of sisterhood, quests against time, fates, magic, and vividly drawn characters that would make for gorgeous fanart (Tanaquill the fairy queen if any artists are reading this: I'll never view the Fairy Godmother in the same way again!) I literally could not put this book down.
My one issue with the story would be is that the 'wicked stepmother' is conveniently benched. Spoilers aside she is unable to interfere in her daughters lives anymore, thus giving them their independence. Whilst I see why this is necessary to the plot, it would have been wonderful to see the sisters finally standing up to her and putting her in her place.
Just as no one is wholly bad, no one is wholly good, and even Ella isn't as perfect as she seems. This is a book for women and young girls everywhere, with a strong message that you don't have to be what society deems as beautiful to succeed. You just need to be true to yourself.
*Thanks to Readers First for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*