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All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of…
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All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother

by Danielle Teller

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1962694,821 (4.07)11
"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.""-- "A luminous retelling of the classic Cinderella tale, told from the perspective of Agnes, the "evil" step-mother"--… (more)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this ARC from William Morrow on LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of this book in any way.

"Being strong does not disqualify you from being beautiful."
Wow this book is amazing!

The Writing

For a debut, this is absolutely astounding! This is one of the most well written books I have ever read! As an example, here's a bunch of quotes I particularly loved:

"Compelling fiction often obscures the humble truth."
I wonder sometimes if the thoughts that flock my nightmares are abandoned memories coming home to roost.
I no longer believe that people are born without virtue. It gets beaten out. Misfortune threshes our souls as a flail threshes wheat, and the lightest parts of ourselves are scattered to the wind.
I was a mouse trapped in a corner, looking for a crack to flee through but dispairing of finding one.
"Imagine what ideas are locked up in the hearts and minds of women who simply lack the tools to express them."
I was a candle that had never known a flame, and now that the flame was lit, I softened and glowed in a way I had not known was possible.
Our fascination with feminine beauty is elemental. It is said that men wish to possess the princess and women wish to be the princess, but I believe that is only part of the truth. We are drawn to extraordinary beauty mindlessly and purposelessly; we flutter on dusty moth wings toward the effulgence with no understanding of why we do it. Perhaps when we see a woman with the aspect of an angel, our souls are tricked into following her, mistaking her for a guide to paradise.
The opposite, of course, is also true.
The stories we tell ourselves have great power.
Because misfortune does not wait idly by until we are prepared for it.
"Rich only matters if he marries you," I said grimly. "Handsome matters not at all."
"You speak of love? Love is a sickness that causes men and women to do stupid things, the sorts of things that leave them sad and broken when the fever passes."
Whew, that's a long list. Well, that's because THIS BOOK IS AMAZING and everyone needs to read it. All the characters were so real and multi-dimensional. The world (though a bit difficult to place the time period at first) was really great, and I loved how religion was mixed in without being preachy.

My only gripe was the fact that it's a Cinderella retelling, and only because I feel like that dragged down the potential of the story. It became predictable (because who doesn't know Cinderella's story?) and I found myself tiring of those parts of the story. The prologue, for instance, was not really necessary and only served to give reason for the journal entries scattered about. Which opening line would you rather have? This:

Suppers at the royal court have become entirely too oppressive.
Or this:

I hardly remember my own mother.
I think you'll all agree with me that the latter is far superior and engaging.

I absolutely loved the theme of motherhood in this. It was so well done and, though I am not a mother, I'm an aunt and my love and adoration for my nephew pales in comparison to Agnes' love for her daughters. And the themes of beauty and love were equally well done.

The Characters

Agnes: She was such an interesting and relatable protagonist. She's so complex and flawed, and she grows so much while staying fundamentally the same.

Fernan: I really found him to be a complex person, especially as Agnes realizes and learns more about him. I was so conflicted as to whether I loved him or hated him, but I never felt indifferent towards him.

Charlotte and Matilda: As someone who has a ton of sisters, they totally got the sister-dynamic down. They also really reminded me (even in appearance, strangely enough--Danielle Teller, have you been watching me??) of my oldest sisters, so reading about them was a huge, super sweet, cavity enducing treat.

Ella: She was really interesting too, and really humanized.

Emont: Man, I feel somewhat similar him as I do Fernan, but honestly, I pity him more anything. He's a pretty pitiful person.

Lady Alba: She gave me some serious Jane Eyre vibes. This whole book gave me Jane Eyre vibes, man.

Conclusion

I love this book so much. It might have even topped 1984 for my favorite book this month and possibly all time. It is amazingly well written, and I went through the whole gamut of emotions reading this. I shed some tears, I laughed and chuckled and giggled like a fool. I love this book and everyone really needs to read it.

Danielle Teller, I applaud you on your fabulous debut. You done good. ( )
  Faith_Murri | Dec 9, 2019 |
This updated adult version of the Cinderella story is told by Agnes, the stepmother. It is really her story, beginning when she is a child and ending when she is fifty. Her stepdaughter Ella, the most beautiful woman in the realm, is a princess by this time and the mother of three. One of Agnes' sorrows is that her own daughters are unmarriageable due to the pox scars that mar their faces and although they love Ella's children, will ever know the joys of motherhood. Agnes keeps no secrets and admits to errors she made as a mother and stepmother, including being hard on Ella. Their lives were so different with Agnes knowing hunger, hard work and depravation while Ella was spoiled and cherished from the day she was born. Despite their differences they remain a family and Ella, now in a position to provide comfort and security to her stepmother and sisters, happily does. ( )
  clue | Oct 31, 2019 |
This is how to do a retelling!!!! It's not way off in left field, its close enough to the inspiration to make sense without being SO close it's the same exact story again. It's from the "evil" step mother's point of view. She told her story from birth to her happily ever after. I liked how she explained how Disney's version of Cinderella came to be without it being the focal point of the entire book. Some might find the lack of magic or fancifulness boring but I truly enjoyed it. It reminded me a LITTLE of a Jane Eyre style of writing. ( )
  mitsuzanna | Sep 26, 2019 |
I really enjoyed this book! I thought the story was interesting and could not close the book! This is a great light reading if anyone is interested. Any re-telling stories are always fun to read. ( )
  Sonped89 | Apr 30, 2019 |
I’ve never been able to say no to a good fairy tale retelling. They are my absolute weakness, and I’ve been especially tempted as of late by the recent crop of novels touting the point-of-view of the “villain”. It ultimately led me to pick up All the Ever Afters, which boldly bears the tagline describing itself as the untold story of Cinderella’s stepmother, the notoriously cruel and wicked antagonist from the classic fairy tale we all know and love.

However, the author Danielle Teller’s approach to this novel is one that I’ve seldom seen in most fairy tale retellings I’ve read, in that she has completely eschewed all aspects of fantasy and magic, choosing instead to ground her story in history. Opening on the French countryside sometime during the mid-fourteenth or early fifteenth century, the tale introduces readers to Agnes, a young girl born into poverty. Her family could not afford to raise her, so she was sent at the tender age of ten to a nearby lord’s manor to become a laundress’s assistant. Worked to the bone and unfairly treated, Agnes had no choice but to use all her wits and wiles to finagle a better position for herself, eventually managing to escape the manor for a less punishing job at the local abbey.

All goes well for several years until Agnes is seduced by the Abbess’s ward and messenger, and their relationship results in a pregnancy. Ejected from the abbey, our protagonist is set up in a village where she becomes the proprietor of a brewery and alehouse, mostly raising her daughters on her own. But soon, tragedy strikes, and Agnes is forced into a situation where she must work her way up from nothing once more. A twist of fate lands her back in the manor where she worked as a child, but the lord is now married with an infant daughter. And thus, Agnes finds herself hired on to be a nursemaid to little Ella, the awkward but radiantly beautiful girl who will one day marry the handsome prince she meets at a fateful ball.

Now Agnes and her two daughters live at the palace, where she tells her tale in the hopes of showing how accounts of her wickedness have either been greatly exaggerated or are outright lies. In fact, she was a victim of forced labor herself, and All the Ever Afters is her own rags to riches story. It is a heart-wrenching novel about growing up with nothing to your name, of having to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps to make your own success. While there have been times where she had to use her cunning or resort to deception to get what she wants, Agnes is no villain. And if on occasion she was tough on Ella or punished her too harshly as a child, we learn that it is only because Agnes has been independent and hardworking her whole life, and as a result, she cannot bear idleness or watching her stepdaughter grow up helpless and spoiled.

In a way, All the Ever Afters is also the untold story of Cinderella’s stepsisters, called Charlotte and Matilda in this version of the retelling. Like their mother, they aren’t the awful people from the many popular versions of Cinderella either, and they’ve gone through their own share of hard times. Now that I’ve read Teller’s portrayal, I also doubt that I’ll ever think about the “ugly stepsisters” epithet the same way again, not after reading about a mother’s hurt and pain from Agnes’s perspective.

As I said before, this is also a purely non-magical story; there will be no fairy godmothers, pumpkin carriages, or singing animals here (though, I was amused to see, the author had managed to work in a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the popular depiction of Cinderella and her affinity for mice, except in this book, Ella’s friendship with her rat Henrietta is nowhere near as adorable…or hygienic). A lot of fairy tale retellings tend to give the mundane things of the world a fantastical twist, but it seems All the Ever Afters set out to do almost the exact opposite, downplaying the magical elements and addressing all that we know about the Cinderella story with realistic explanations.

I also found it interesting how the novel mirrored many of the original fairy tale’s lessons—that is, to always work hard and never let setbacks or difficult people get you down. However, while the classic version also taught that beauty is esteemed, but that having a good heart is the most important, things are not so idealized in Agnes’s more realistic world. Her stepdaughter Ella—who is naïve, spoiled, and rather soft and vapid—manages to snag a prince and is loved by all in the kingdom for no other reason because she is beautiful. Meanwhile, Charlotte and Matilda, who have endured so much more, will never have anywhere close to the same opportunities simply because they are homely. Agnes’s lesson for her daughters? Life is not fair, but you still do what you must to keep moving forward.

All in all, I enjoyed All the Ever Afters very much. With Cinderella only playing a bit part, this tale truly belongs to her stepmother, who has been given new life by Danielle Teller. In this heartfelt novel, there are no magical spells or fairy godmothers, for Agnes is a woman who relies on nothing but herself to change her life and make a better future for her children. If you prefer fantasy in your fairy tale retellings, you may wish to reconsider this one, but if you don’t mind a narrative that’s more rooted in realism, then I really can’t recommend this highly enough. ( )
  stefferoo | Apr 10, 2019 |
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