Bewitching by Alex Flinn
Bewitching is so not what I’d thought it would be but in the best way possible–the things about it I was expecting, the parts I was not looking forward to didn’t actually exist!
When you read the blurb, it sounds as though the story will be told from Kendra’s (the witch’s) POV and focus on her efforts to help Emma, the Cinderella. This would have been a cool story in itself but… nope! The story actually takes place primarily from Emma’s perspective (with the occasional interjection from Kendra) and follows her battles with stepsister Lisette and efforts to win Lisette’s boyfriend. Lisette, who is Cinderella. Emma, the “evil” stepsister. You see, Lisette’s dad loved Emma a little too much and she got royally pissed. So she changed the game. Enter Kendra, friendless Emma’s best friend with magical powers, willing but not so ready to fix things.
I liked Emma, and I liked that Bewitching is written from her perspective. It’s not everyday that we get to hear from the stepsister in a Cinderella story. Emma fits the bill of “ugly stepsister” in the way she sees herself: unwanted, unattractive, unloved. Any somewhat cruel thing she does is something she is pushed to do by her mom who positively despises Lisette. It was interesting to get to see the relationship between the stepmother and stepsister through Emma’s eyes–and it’s a rather reluctant one at that. Emma will do some less savoury things on occasion just to get her mom, who is just as much a source of Emma’s low self-esteem as Lisette–to shut up. Over the course of the novel, we get to see Emma grow up and grow into herself. She starts looking like a better Cinderella than Lisette, despite her beauty, could ever, ever be.
Lisette on the other hand is the most conniving, maddening, evil Cinderella I have ever encountered. She’s gorgeous! She sings! She’s popular! She’s got a boyfriend! She’s the one everyone wants! I absolutely hate her guts! Some of the things she does to Emma are even worse that what I’ve seen the evil stepsisters do in other Cinderella books. The problem is, while Emma is basically the only one who sees Lisette for the beyotch she truly is, she almost idolizes her. Emma is always measuring herself up to Lisette (because Lisette always gets what Emma wants) and is always finding herself wanting. It’s a little frustrating because the reader (much like Kendra) eyes Lisette with hatred and sees Emma as the things she does not see in herself, but it makes too much sense for the characters to be anything different. Honestly, I’d likely have been angry if Emma was just as confident as her stepsister because it just doesn’t work for her.
Kendra is lovely. She’s funny, for one, which keeps things going if the dialogue gets a little dry. She also doesn’t take sh*t from anyone, which is good because Emma does and it’s hard to watch someone just get beaten down all the time. Plus, she always responds with magic which makes for some pretty unique comebacks. The Kendra parts though are some of my favourites. She’ll interject now and the with a page describing her feelings on the whole ordeal, often mirroring your own. Do you guys ever get the feeling of how-stupid-can-this-character-possibly-be? when you’ve seen right through the ‘bad guy’ since page one and the MC is still obsessing over them? I do, and I find it makes the novel hard to get through if what you find it obvious and takes hundreds of pages for the MC to realize. It was Kendra’s pages that stopped Bewitching from turning into that by making the same comments you are in your brain on the paper. She also would have a chapter on occasion where she explained her previous magic attempts gone awry, always narrating another fairytale which, for someone as fairytale-obsessed as myself, was pretty cool.
I will admit, however, the plot itself was a little lacking. It’s a lot of set up, for one, starting back in eighth grade when Lisette joins the family. Sure, it skips a couple years in the middle once the relationships are all established but once you get where the story actually takes place you have to wait again while the whole thing with the boyfriend is explored. Then, and only then, does the actual plot begin. Plus, Emma is waaaaaay too obsessed with the guy (don’t want to name him for fear of accidentally spoiling something); the entire novel is her complaining about how her love is unrequited and Lisette sucks and she misses him soooooooo much! I don’t even like him! Suffice to say it was a bit of a pain to get through, but by no means not worth getting through.
The ending made me 🙂 though, so there’s always that to look forward to.
Something I did like was that the characters were already familiar with the story of Cinderella. I find that sometimes in fairytale retellings unless it’s some kind of reincarnation thing (ie. Kill me Softly by Sarah Cross. Y’all should definitely read it), the people in the story know nothing about the story. It’s like those zombie movies where nobody knows what a zombie is until the apocalypse begins–I don’t want them confused, I want them at the door with a bat screaming “LET’S DO THIS!” Emma was fully aware though of the whole Cinderella concept and even uses it to her advantage near the end.
Bewitching is not my all-time favourite Cinderella retelling but it was a good one. The twist on Cinderella and the stepsister was very intriguing. It is not often that the stepsister’s POV is explored, and less often that Cinderella is made into the bad guy. Just an FYI if you guys are interested, Bewitching is classified as a sequel to Flinn’s Beastly, written years before. The book makes occasional reference to it, little updates on how the characters did but it’s not necessary to read it before this one. Anyway, as I said before, it gets frustrating at times but don’t let that stop you because there are still so many good and interesting things about it, many of which I can’t even discuss here without spoiling things. Bewitching is yet another example of Alex Flinn’s uncanny ability to take a traditional, beloved fairytale and make it into something entirely new. Definitely a job well done!
Click here for the synopsis on Goodreads!