Cold Hearted: A Tale of the Wicked Stepmother

Disney-Hyperion. (Villains). Jun. 2021. 304p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781368025287.
Gr 4-6–As this Cinderella backstory unfolds, wealthy London socialite Lady Tremaine, a widow with two young daughters, is swept off her feet by Sir Richard, a dashing visitor from Many Kingdoms. However, Lady Tremaine no sooner sets foot in Sir Richard’s home when her story begins to sour. It is obvious Sir Richard married her for her money and expects her to provide childcare, keep house, and cook. Eventually, after years of a bitter existence, the gentle woman devolves into the legendary wicked stepmother. This latest in Disney’s YA “Villains” series explores how Cinderella’s stepmother was forced by fairy fate into the stereotyped role. After the lengthy backstory concludes, the tale, which reads more like middle grade than YA, quickly wraps up and the potentially intriguing plot is abandoned in a rush to the apparently happy ending. The fairies, who deliberately force Lady Tremaine to become a wicked stepmother, exhibit no remorse or sympathy for the woman, and the stepsisters’ years of abuse and neglect are smoothed away with a closet full of new dresses.
VERDICT A unique premise fails to live up to its potential. Purchase if you have dedicated Disney princess fans; otherwise look for better fairy tale rewrites by Robin McKinley, Gail Carson Levine, and others.

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