[Book Review] Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

Confessions_of_an_Ugly_Stepsister_coverTitle: Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister
Author: Gregory Maguire
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy tales
Published: November 1999 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: Borrowed from a friend


Here’s a description from the publisher:

We all have heard the story of Cinderella, the beautiful child cast out to slave among the ashes. But what of her stepsisters, the homely pair exiled into ignominy by the fame of their lovely sibling? What fate befell those untouched by beauty . . . and what curses accompanied Cinderella’s exquisite looks?

Extreme beauty is an affliction

Set against the rich backdrop of seventeenth-century Holland, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister tells the story of Iris, an unlikely heroine who finds herself swept from the lowly streets of Haarlem to a strange world of wealth, artifice, and ambition. Iris’s path quickly becomes intertwined with that of Clara, the mysterious and unnaturally beautiful girl destined to become her sister.

Clara was the prettiest child, but was her life the prettiest tale?

While Clara retreats to the cinders of the family hearth, burning all memories of her past, Iris seeks out the shadowy secrets of her new household–and the treacherous truth of her former life.

Far more than a mere fairy-tale, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is a novel of beauty and betrayal, illusion and understanding, reminding us that deception can be unearthed–and love unveiled–in the most unexpected of places.


Hmm… This is the first book written by Gregory Maguire that I attempted to read. I’ve heard praises about his works, so I was curious to try one. Among his works, this title interested me because it was a re-imagined version of the Cinderella story. It’s a tale about Margerethe Fisher and her daughters Iris and Ruth. It was told through one of the ugly stepsisters’ (Iris) perspective. It was set in the Netherlands at a time of tulip mania when tulips were all the rage.

It took me a while to finish reading it. It just didn’t quite capture my imagination as I hoped it would. It was darker than the Cinderella story we all know. It was well-written and I didn’t mind the dark take on the story at all, but I found Mr. Maguire’s writing style to be a bit florid. It was like halfway between Old English and not Old English. It also came across as somewhat labored. It didn’t really suit my taste.

The first several chapters felt a little dragging to read. It wasn’t until they meet Clara van den Meer (Cinderella) that it started to get a bit un-dragging. There were also ideas of changelings, imps, and spirits in the story. That part, I couldn’t quite grasp. I couldn’t really place their importance in the story. Perhaps they were meant to explain some things in the story that my brain just couldn’t process (admittedly, I can be a shallow reader).

Iris was a likeable heroine. Though she was far from perfect, she did care about her sister and stepsister. She wasn’t ugly per se, she was just too plain. And next to Clara, who was described as extremely beautiful, Iris looked ugly, I suppose. I couldn’t sympathize with Margerethe (the evil stepmother). She was really mean to her daughters! She complains very vocally about their ugliness and how much they were a burden to look after. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how a mother can treat her children with such spite and regret. In fairness, however, she did make sure her daughters were clothed and had something to eat, thought about their future, and eventually found a place for them to stay. But still, Margarethe was villainous; greedy, cunning, and manipulative. She had no qualms about doing what she thought she had to do to advance in her social status. She went to great lengths to become Mr. Van den Meer’s second wife and Clara’s stepmother.

What happened at the ball and after, I’m really not too sure. The prince was smitten with Clara, of course. But a lot of other things happened that left me wondering what exactly was going on. Maybe a little too much of the events are left to the readers’ imaginations. I think these parts could have been explored a bit more instead of the other previous chapters that seemed too long. The ending seemed a bit sudden too. A little further elaboration would have been nice.


It was an interesting take on the classic Cinderella story, but I can’t say I was satisfied with the book. It took me a while to finish it, sometimes I didn’t even feel like picking it up. The story had a slow start, got a bit interesting in the middle, then kind of got all squished up in the end with an ending that seemed to need a bit more detail.

As I mentioned, this is the first book written by Mr. Maguire that I attempted to read. Perhaps I chose the wrong book to read first in his body of work. I’m not much of a fan of the world of Oz, though, that’s why I’ve never attempted to read any of his books before. I saw a re-imagined version of Snow White among his titles and I could possibly be interested in that, but I’m not so sure I’d be eager to pick up another one of his books. Not so soon, at least.

10 thoughts on “[Book Review] Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

  1. I can’t remember if it was Confessions of An Ugly Stepsister or one of Gregory Maguire’s other works, but I do remember attempting to read one of his and not being able to read past the first couple of chapters. Good on you for finishing it!

    • Thanks, Christine! I think his writing is sort of an acquired taste and it didn’t suit mine. I didn’t like his technique very much, but that’s just me.

      Was his writing the reason why you gave up on the book you attempted to read?

      • Yeah, his style/technique really is an acquired taste, and it makes it difficult to get taken in by a story when you’re trying to get used to the style/technique. I’m going to have to give his writing another try now that I’m older and see if anything has changed. It’s happened for me before with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, so I am somewhat hopeful 🙂

  2. Pingback: [Random Babbles] Weatherly’s Book Haul – Mission Report #2 | Undercover Bookworm

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