Review: Ugly: The Stepsister's Story

While it may not be the first retelling of "Cinderella" to flip the script from the perspective of the ugly stepsister, Ugly: The Stepsister's Story by Mary Mecham is really something special. The last book I read from this author, Poisoned: Snow White's Story was somewhat misleading because the story focused more on the dwarf characters than on Snow White. This one, on the other hand, is exactly what it looks like, a fresh new take on "Cinderella" with a tragic heroine that explores trauma in a believable and sympathetic way. I also thought the love story in this book was much stronger, possibly because the main couple knew each other for most of their lives. Between this and A Curse of Gold and Beauty, I think writing romance is one of Mary Mecham's strongest suits even though she places more focus on disabled representation, which she also does well.

Truly is a refined lady of the court who lives in the castle with her parents and sister. Her master linguistic skills make her a valuable resource to the kingdom's foreign relations, and her compassion and sincerity make her a perfect match for Prince Curtis, who is second in line for the throne to his brother. She seems to have the perfect life until a horrible event takes place one day on a diplomatic mission when she is attacked by terrorists, and her face is marred beyond recognition. She is understandably traumatized by these events and becomes a recluse, refusing to see Curtis again or even respond to his letters, believing that he could never love her if he saw what she looked like after the accident. The book has some strong Phantom of the Opera romantic vibes with a sympathetic heroine who is worth rooting for.

The character dynamics are handled extremely well. It is crystal clear why Curtis has feelings for Truly and vice versa. They are both compassionate people who put others before themselves and don't believe in the false pretenses of royal life. Truly's sister, Comfort, is so understanding and supportive of her that she made me wish I had a sister just like her. The only character I didn't like was Cynthia, who represents Cinderella in this story. I understand that because this was a role reversal, in order to like one character, another would have to seem less appealing, but Cynthia had virtually no redeeming qualities. She was so cruel to Truly and kept calling her ugly over and over again even after her father explained everything she had been through. Yet, Truly continued to forgive her and was way more kind to her than she actually deserved.

I enjoyed how Mary Mecham incorporated elements of the Brothers Grimm interpretation of "Cinderella" with the magic tree that members of the family would sneak gifts inside of for the others to find. It was a fun twist that provided a more logical explanation for the supernatural elements of the fairy tale. I also liked that there were two princes, similar to Andrew Lloyd Webber's interpretation of the story, so there didn't need to be a love triangle to create additional barriers between Truly and Cynthia. This also proved that Truly cared about Curtis as a person and not because he was a prince. Truly felt more like a "Cinderella" figure than Cynthia because she recovered from a horrible situation and learned to open her heart to love and happiness again.

Ugly: The Stepsister's Story by Mary Mecham is a captivating and unique retelling of "Cinderella" that delves into the perspective of the ugly stepsister. Mecham handles trauma and disabled representation with sensitivity and care, while also crafting a compelling romance. The character dynamics between Truly, Curtis, and Comfort are expertly handled, although Cynthia's lack of redeeming qualities may be off-putting to some readers. The use of the magic tree and two princes adds depth to the story, making it a must-read for anyone looking for a fresh take on a classic fairy tale. Overall, this book shows Mecham's prowess in creating innovative retellings with strong character development, making her an author to watch in the future.


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