Jennifer Donnelly 'Stepsister' Is A Cinderella Retelling That Centers On The Wicked Stepmom's Daughters
A new Cinderella story is hitting the market from A Northern Light author Jennifer Donnelly. A re-imagining of the fairytale you all know and love, Jennifer Donnelly's Stepsister centers on Isabelle and Octavia — Cinderella's stepsisters — whose mother tries to trick the prince into marrying one of them. Bustle has an exclusive first look at the cover of Jennifer Donnelly's new novel below, plus a sneak peek inside the book, so that you can start reading Stepsister ahead of its May 28, 2019 release date.
In Stepsister, the wicked stepmother's two daughters cuts off parts of their feet to fit into Cinderella's lost glass slipper, in an effort to trick the prince into believing that one of them was the mystery woman who danced with him at the ball. Octavia has already failed, having cut off her heel and filled the slipper with blood, when Isabelle gets her turn. She sacrifices her toes for the chance at a life of luxury, and winds up caught in a dispute between Fate and Chance, two beings who may not have her best interests at heart.
Writing on her author website in September 2017, Donnelly quoted her agent, Steve Malk, to call Stepsister a "harrowing and hopeful Cinderella story for the 21st century." It's certainly a fresh take on the popular story. See the stunning cover below — and read on for a creepy excerpt that will make even more excited to get your hands on this book.
In the kitchen of a grand mansion, a girl sat clutching a knife.
Her name was Isabelle. She was not pretty.
She held the knife’s blade over the flames of a fire burning in the hearth. Behind her, sprawled half-conscious in another chair, was her sister, Octavia.
Octavia’s face was deathly pale. Her eyes were closed. The once-white stocking covering her right foot was crimson with blood. Adélie, the sisters’ old nursemaid, peeled it off and gasped. Octavia’s heel was gone. Blood dripped from an ugly wound where it used to be and pooled on the floor. Though she tried to hold it in, a moan of pain escaped her.
Octavia’s face was deathly pale. Her eyes were closed. The once-white stocking covering her right foot was crimson with blood.
“Hush, Tavi!” Maman scolded. “The prince will hear you! Just because your chances are ruined, doesn’t mean your sister’s must be.”
Maman was the girls’ mother. She was standing by the sink, rinsing blood out of a glass slipper.
The prince had come searching for the one who’d worn it. He’d danced all night with a beautiful girl at a masquerade ball three days ago and had fallen in love with her, but at the stroke of midnight, the girl had run away, leaving only a glass slipper behind. He would marry the girl who’d worn it, he’d vowed. Her and no other.
Maman was determined that one of her daughters would be that girl. She’d greeted the royal party in the foyer and requested that they be allowed to try the slipper on in privacy, in deference to their maidenly modesty. The Prince had agreed. The Grand Vizier had held out a velvet pillow. Maman had carefully lifted the slipper off it and carried it into the kitchen. Isabelle and Octavia had followed her.
He would marry the girl who’d worn it, he’d vowed. Her and no other.
“We should’ve heated the blade for Tavi,” she fretted now. “Why didn’t I think of it? Heat sears the vessels. It stops the bleeding. Ah, well. It will go better for you, Isabelle.”
Isabelle swallowed. “But Maman, how will I walk?” she asked in a small voice.
“Silly girl! You will ride. In a golden carriage. Servants will lift you in and out.”
Flames licked the silver blade. It grew red. Isabelle’s eyes grew large with fear. She thought of a stallion, lost to her now, that she had once loved.
“But Maman, how will I gallop through the forest?”
“The time has come to put childish pursuits aside,” Maman said, drying the slipper. “I’ve bankrupted myself trying to attract suitors for you and your sister. Pretty gowns and fine jewels cost a fortune. A girl’s only hope in life is to make a good marriage and there’s no finer match than the prince of France.”
“I can’t do it,” Isabelle whispered. “I can’t.”
Flames licked the silver blade. It grew red. Isabelle’s eyes grew large with fear.
Maman put the glass slipper down. She walked to the hearth and took Isabelle’s face in her hands. “Listen to me, child, and listen well. Love is pain. Love is sacrifice. The sooner you learn that, the better.”
Isabelle squeezed her eyes shut. She shook her head.
Maman released her. She was silent for a bit. When she finally spoke again her voice was cold, but her words were scalding.
“You are ugly, Isabelle. Dull. Lumpy as a dumpling. I could not even convince the schoolmaster’s knock-kneed clod of a son to marry you. Now a prince waits on the other side of the door…a prince, Isabelle . . . and all you have to do to make him yours is cut off a few toes. Just a few useless little toes…”
Maman wielded shame like an assassin wields a dagger, driving it straight into her victim’s heart. She would win; she always won. Isabelle knew that. How many times had she cut away parts of herself at her mother’s demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping, more gravy, a bigger slice of cake.
If I marry the prince, I will be a princess, Isabelle thought. And one day, a queen. And no one will dare call me ugly ever again.
She opened her eyes.
Maman wielded shame like an assassin wields a dagger, driving it straight into her victim’s heart.
“Good girl. Be brave. Be quick,” Maman said. “Cut at the joint.”
Isabelle pulled the blade from the flames.
And tried to forget the rest.