Today’s review is on All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller
All the Ever Afters follows Agnes who is born into poverty and is forced to go work as a laundry girl at Aviceford Manor. She faces cruelty from other servants and discovers that the lord of the manor is a drunkard who is seemingly out of touch with the running of his estate. Several years later she has an opportunity to become a servant at Ellis Abbey, where she starts to feel like she might finally have a chance to escape her destiny. However, the horrible Abbess Elfilda scoffs at her plans to become a nun, and Agnes finds solace in the abbess’s ward, Fernan. Through a cruel twist of fate she is forced to leave the abbey, and eventually ends up back at Aviceford Manor to be a nurse maid to Sir Emont’s daughter, Elfilda (nicknamed Ella). However, she soon rises above her place as servant and marries her lord and becomes Ella’s stepmother.
There are several reasons why I chose this book, one of the main ones being that the cover is gorgeous! It definitely drew me in and made me want to find out more about this book. Then there is the subtitle, “the untold story of Cinderella’s stepmother”, that also piqued my interest, especially since I haven’t read anything that tells her side of the story. I was curious to see how the author tried to “redeem” the stepmother as not the villain that she has been known as for several hundred years and if it is even possible to have a Cinderella story if the stepmother isn’t evil.
All the Ever Afters ended up being somewhat different from what I had been expecting, I honestly expected it to be an origin of the wicked stepmother but she is still evil. However, this book provides a new take on the wicked stepmother that I had not seen before. The story starts out with the stepmother being asked if the rumors and gossip are true about her and her daughters in regards to how Cinderella came to be married to the prince (the traditional story of Cinderella is presented as mere court gossip that is spread around). Once hearing some of the ridiculous statements that are being said about her, she sets out to write her own story from the beginning to the “present day.”
The stepmother’s name is Agnes and she is a kind and strong woman who stands for what is just, even it means that others view her as harsh. Everything she does is result of the cruelty she faced as a young girl, and even that of Fernan her lover. She also discovers that the world is no place for a widow, however she does get a chance to gain employment back at Aviceford Manor.
Agnes also strives to make a living for herself by learning how to brew ale and reopening the alehouse that she lives in. Even when she goes back to Aviceford Manor, though she is a nursemaid, she proves that she has a mind for business and becomes a confidant of Sir Emont. I also loved watching her relationship with Ella, she truly loves her stepdaughter, even though she does resort to seemingly “harsh” punishments when she acts out of line, however she only does so to make sure that her stepdaughter does not grow up to be a spoiled brat.
This brings me to another aspect of the story that I liked. Ella is presented as a young woman who is given everything she wants by her father, whereas her stepmother tries to stop him from doing so because she knows that it can lead to selfishness. Instead of the virtuous Cinderella that everyone knows, we meet a girl who is unsure of herself, and is sheltered and spoiled.
Then there are the two stepsisters, traditionally they have been known as ugly because of their character, however Danielle Teller paints them as kind girls who are physically ugly due to their father being a foreigner and both of them suffering through either a burn or chicken pox, which left them scarred.
I do wish more attention had been paid to the prince and that we had learned more about him besides the fact that he was considered to be a rake. However, since the story is told from Agnes’s point of view it makes sense that we do not gain more insight into his true character.
As far as pacing goes, I felt like it started out slow, but then it started to pick up and I found that I had a hard time putting it down. I think that is a good read for anyone who wants a different story of Cinderella, especially from the point of view of the character that has been painted as evil for as long as the original tale has existed. However, if you are looking for a wicked stepmother who is justified in her villainous deeds, this is not the book for you. Instead it paints a picture of woman who does have faults, but she is also a good woman whose actions are sometimes misunderstood.
I do feel like the story of Cinderella and the prince meeting was rushed and I felt like more could have been written on their initial meeting and his pursuit of finding the woman he loves. However, I also see why Teller chose to not include this in her novel because it would detract from the stepmother’s story. I also liked the ending, however I do wish the stepsisters, Charlotte and Matilda had happier endings, but I guess it is enough that they lived a peaceful life after leaving Cinderella’s court.
Another aspect of the novel that I appreciated was the attention to different parts of the medieval kingdom, especially to how manors were run. The world is painted as being both whimsical, but also cruel to those who are not fortunate enough to rise above poverty. 4/5 Stars.
Janelle L. C.