This is the 7th novel written by Gregory Maguire that I have read. I have enjoyed them all. In this rendering of the “Cinderella” story, he has turned it into ‘historical fiction’, in the sense that there is no fairy godmother, pumpkins turned into coaches, etc. In this version we hear the “ugly step-mother’s” (Margarethe) reasons for the actions she took, mainly to provide for her daughters, who were too plain to get husbands without a dowry.
It’s easy to forget in this century, when a woman can have an independent lifestyle and work for a living, that there was a time when this was not so. In the time period that this story occurs, if a woman didn’t have a husband or father to provide for her, or an inheritance from same, she had few options, none of them very pleasant. This is presented as the main reasons for the conniving actions that Margarethe takes. This may have been her original intentions but her greed takes over and she pushes her husband to make even more money, which leads to their ruin and drastic measures by not only Margarethe but Iris (ugly stepsister) and Clara (Cinderella).
What you end up with is a story that is Cinderella, but is not, Maguire follows the idea of the fairy tale, he takes out the magic and makes the characters real. His characters are fully formed and consistent in temperament and actions. But do they live happily ever after? You’ll have to read the book to find out.