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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister


Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister Cover





The wind being fierce and the tides unobliging, the ship from Harwich has a slow time of it. Timbers creak, sails snap as the vessel lurches up the brown river to the quay. It arrives later than expected, the bright finish to a cloudy afternoon. The travelers clamber out, eager for water to freshen their mouths. Among them are a strict-stemmed woman and two daughters.

The woman is bad-tempered because she's terrified. The last of her coin has gone to pay the passage. For two days, only the charity of fellow travelers has kept her and her girls from hunger. If you can call it charity — a hard crust of bread, a rind of old cheese to gnaw. And then brought back up as gorge, thanks to the heaving sea. The mother has had to turn her face from it. Shame has a dreadful smell.

So mother and daughters stumble, taking a moment to find their footing on the quay. The sun rolls westward, the light falls lengthwise, the foreigners step into their shadows. The street is splotched with puddles from an earlier cloudburst.

The younger girl leads the older one. They are timid and eager. Are they stepping into a country of tales, wonders the younger girl. Is this new land a place where magic really happens? Not in cloaks of darkness as in England, but in light of day? How is this new world complected?

"Don't gawk, Iris. Don't lose yourself in fancy. And keep up," says the woman. "It won't do to arrive at Grandfather's house after dark. He might bar himself against robbers and rogues, not daring to open the doors and shutters till morning. Ruth, move your lazy limbs for once. Grandfather's house is beyond the marketplace, that much I remember being told. We'll get nearer, we'llask."

"Mama, Ruth is tired," says the younger daughter, "she hasn't eaten much nor slept well. We're coming as fast as we can.

"Don't apologize, it wastes your breath. just mend your ways and watch your tongue," says the mother. "Do you think I don't have enough on my mind?"

" Yes, of course," agrees the younger daughter, by rote, "it's just that Ruth-"

"You're always gnawing the same bone. Let Ruth speak for herself if she wants to complain."

But Ruth won't speak for herself. So they move up the street, along a shallow incline, between step-gabled brick houses. The small windowpanes, still unshuttered at this hour, pick up a late-afternoon shine. The stoops are scrubbed, the streets swept of manure and leaves and dirt. A smell of afternoon baking lifts from hidden kitchen yards. It awakens both hunger and hope. "Pies grow on their roofs in this town," the mother says. "That'll mean a welcome for us at Grandfather's. Surely. Surely. Now is the market this way? — for beyond that we'll find his house — or that way?"

"Oh, the market," says a croaky old dame, half hidden in the gloom of a doorway, "what you can buy there, and what you can sell!" The younger daughter screws herself around: Is this the voice of a wise woman, a fairy crone to help them?

"Tell me the way," says the mother, peering.

"You tell your own way," says the dame, and disappears. Nothing there but the shadow of her voice.

"Stingy with directions? Then stingy with charity too?" The mother squares her shoulders. "There's a church steeple. The market must be nearby. Come."

At the end of a lane the marketplace opens before them. The stalls are nested on the edges of a broad square, a church looming overone end and a government house opposite. Houses of prosperous people, shoulder to shoulder. All the buildings stand up straight-not like the slumped timberframed cottage back in England, back home ...

-- the cottage now abandoned ... abandoned in a storm of poundings at the shutters, of shouts: "A knife to your throat! You'll swallow my sharp blade. Open up!." . . Abandoned, as mother and daughters scrambled through a side window, a cudgel splintering the very door --

"Screeeee" — an airborne alarm. Seagulls make arabesques near the front of the church, being kept from the fish tables by a couple of tired, zealous dogs. The public space is cold from the ocean wind, but it is lit rosy and golden, from sun on brick and stone. Anything might happen here, thinks the younger girl. Anything! Even, maybe, something good.

The market: near the end of its day. Smelling of tired vegetables, strong fish, smoking embers, earth on the roots of parsnips and cabbages. The habit of hunger is a hard one to master. The girls gasp. They are ravenous.

Fish laid to serry like roofing tiles, glinting in their own oils. Gourds and marrows. Apples, golden, red, green. Tumbles of grapes, some already jellying in their split skins. Cheeses coated with bone-hard wax, or caught in webbing and dripping whitely-cats sprawl beneath like Ottoman pashas, open-mouthed. "Oh," says the younger sister when the older one has stopped to gape at the abundance. "Mama, a throwaway scrap for us! There must be."

The mother's face draws even more closed than usual. I won't have us seen to be begging on our first afternoon here," she hisses. "Iris, don' t show such hunger in your eyes. Your greed betrays you."

"Wehaven't eaten a real pasty since England, Mama! When are we going to eat again? Ever?"

"We saw few gestures of charity for us there, and I won't ask for charity here," says the mother. "We are gone from England, Iris, escaped with our lives. You're hungry? Eat the air, drink the light. Food will follow. Hold your chin high and keep your pride."

But Iris's hunger — a new one for her-is for the look of things as much as for the taste of them. Ever since the sudden flight from England ...

What Our Readers Are Saying

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MadisonRobyn, January 7, 2013 (view all comments by MadisonRobyn)
I always enjoyed books that hsow the "other side". Truth is not always Black and White.
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emmejo, August 24, 2009 (view all comments by emmejo)
We are all familiar with the story of Cinderella. We know what happened, or so we think. But what about the stepsisters? Who were they and what did they think about Cinderella? How did they end up as Cinderella's stepsisters? Were they really evil? This book attempts to show the story from a different light.

I thought this book would be very good. It has many excellent reviews and sounds like a fascinating plot. I was sorely disappointed. The writing dragged and was not very interesting. The characters were underdeveloped and flat. I was having to force myself to finish it. I don't recommend this book.
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(0 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
Chad, February 24, 2009 (view all comments by Chad)
maguire continuously creates elaborate landscapes of familiar tales, with unimaginable details and lives. "confessions" gives readers a compassionate heart for the ugly stepsisters in this alternate view of a classic tale, Cinderella. this story is based in a different reality, one that follows the harsh tulip trade and decline. if you thought that Cinderella was a saint that sings with the animals in the disney version, maguire will quickly change how you see her, and her ugly stepsisters...
maguire has successfully made it to the top of my favorite authors list.
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(1 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

Maguire, Gregory
Sanderson, Bill
by Gregory Maguire
by Gregory Maguire
Historical - General
Historical fiction
Beauty, Personal
Fairy tales
Cinderella (Legendary character)
Fairy Tales, Folklore & Mythology
Fiction-Historical - General
Fiction-Fairy Tales, Folklore & Mythology
General Fiction
Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7 x 7 in 3.12 oz

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Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister Used Trade Paper
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Product details 384 pages ReganBooks - English 9780060987527 Reviews:
"Review" by , "There was a time, long ago, when Cinderella was simply a children's tale in which good triumphed over bad, pretty over ugly, pumpkins and mice over carriages and footmen....Now, the story has much more depth. Gregory Maguire has applied his devilish writing style and vivid imagination to the story of the glass slipper, and, in doing so, turned this simple tale into a Gothic saga of 17th-century Holland."
"Review" by , "Highly absorbing...Maguire's precise, slightly archaic language...sweeps readers through this mysterious and fascinating story."
"Review" by , "[An] engrossing story...endearing and memorable."
"Review" by , "[An] arresting hybrid of mystery, fairy tale, and historical novel."
"Review" by , "A tale so movingly told that you will say at the end of the first reading, 'Its been a long time since Ive read a book this good."
"Synopsis" by , Gregory Maguire proves himself to be “one of contemporary fictions most assured myth-makers” (Kirkus Reviews) with Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, his ingenious and provocative retelling of the timeless Cinderella fairy tale. Perhaps best known for his dark and breathtaking Oz series The Wicked Years — including the novel Wicked, which inspired the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical — Maguire is a master at upending the ordinary to help us see the familiar in a brilliant new light.
"Synopsis" by , The acclaimed author of Wicked conjures up a fresh perspective on the timeless tale of Cinderella in this provocative, superbly written story about the true meaning of beauty. Line drawings throughout.

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