All the Ever Afters: The Untold Story of Cinderella’s Stepmother by Danielle Teller is a retelling of the classic Cinderella tale, but from the perspective of Cinderella’s stepmother, Agnes. The book focuses on Agnes’s life, from childhood into adulthood, and her own struggles and obstacles she has to overcome before becoming stepmother to Cinderella.
We all know the story of Cinderella. Or do we?
As rumors about the cruel upbringing of beautiful newlywed Princess Cinderella roil the kingdom, her stepmother, Agnes, a woman who knows all too well about hardship, privately records the true story. But what unfolds is not the princess’s history. The tale Agnes recounts is her own.
A peasant born into serfdom, Agnes is separated from her family and forced into servitude as a laundress’s apprentice at Aviceford Manor when she is just ten years old. Alone, friendless, and burdened with a grueling workload, Agnes carves a place for herself in this cold place that is home to Sir Emont Vis-de-Loup, a melancholic and capricious drunkard.
Using her wits and ingenuity, Agnes eventually escapes and makes her way toward a hopeful future, serving as a housemaid for the powerful Abbess Elfilda. But life once again holds unexpected, sometimes heartbreaking twists that lead Agnes back to Aviceford Manor, where she becomes nursemaid to Ella, Emont’s sensitive, otherworldly daughter. Though she cares for Ella, Agnes struggles to love this child, who in time becomes her stepdaughter and, ultimately, the celebrated princess who embodies all our unattainable fantasies.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story is that Teller infused so much life into this story. Cinderella was never one of my favorite princess stories, but Teller used the structure of this story to build the full life of a character, setting the Cinderella story up as the product of courtly gossip. In this way, Teller reconstructs the story of Cinderella in they way she wants to, and in this way it appears more realistic and “based in fact.”
I found Agnes, the stepmother, to be a really interesting character. Getting to know her from childhood allows the reader to sympathize with her more and connect with her on a human level. It gives the reader time to see her as just that, another human, struggling to make it in the world. The story comes across as much more realistic than fantastical. Teller obviously did a lot of research to inject realism into it, included the methods of brewing alcohol, the manor/abbey system, and the way societal levels were rigid and made it difficult for even clever people to eek out a living.
I also appreciated Teller including some diversity into her story. Not only does Agnes marry a man of color, but Teller also includes the struggles that Agnes’s biracial daughter had to go through. Every character, in fact, is told with such detail and color, the story feels very rich.
The only thing that I disliked about this story was that Teller’s portrayal of the character of Cinderella was very strange. Of all the characters, she is the least interesting and the least developed. She is more often described by her oddities than anything else. From the story, despite Agnes constantly speaking of how the people love her, I felt no warmth for her. It was almost as if Teller wanted to diminish her to someone who was the least dynamic and the least pitiable. Mostly she comes across as a spoiled child who hardly speaks and more often likes to fantasize the day away. It was just really strange.
Literary Value: 4/5
This book was very well written. I could tell from the writing that Teller did a lot of research to bring this story to life. But this didn’t dull the story or slow it down in any way. In fact, I found Teller’s narrative prose to be very eloquent and enjoyable. Agnes’s story was very beautifully rendered and her character was so well developed. I appreciated Teller’s attention to detail, as it made the story seem so real and Agnes really sprung off the page.
Though the story’s pacing wasn’t particularly fast, it wasn’t slow either. I was pretty absorbed in the story for the majority of it, though there were a few slow periods. The nice thing is that the story of Cinderella is pretty well known, so I knew where the story was heading. But still, the story wasn’t predictable in the sense that the story was focused on Agnes, not Cinderella, so it remained mostly original in its telling.
Entertainment Factor: 3/5
I think this was a really well written book and the story seemed original! I found Agnes to be a really relatable and likeable character. I enjoyed getting to know her and seeing her overcome so many struggles to get where she is in the original Cinderella tale. I think Teller did an excellent job of building upon the original Cinderella tale. Since the story involves Agnes’s life since childhood, much of the story is new and purely original, from Teller’s own imaginings. I liked that the most, I think.
Getting to know Agnes was really enjoyable. I’m fond of a character-driven story, so this book definitely appealed to me on that level. I really liked Agnes’s daughters, the “ugly step sisters,” and Teller’s re-imagining of them. They were probable one of the best parts of the story. The only thing I didn’t really enjoy was Cinderella herself. I found her to be strange and almost bland. It really disappointed me, since I think Cinderella is an interesting character and her story is so classic that it was really off-putting to see her character so changed.
Cover Art: 4/5
I really like all the bits and pieces that make up this cover. They’ve got the shoe on their, and the castle up top, and leafy branches. All these bits and pieces link back to the story, which is a nice touch. I really like the banner and title font. I think it brings that fairytale feel, to it. The only drawback, for me, is that it’s almost too busy. There’s a lot of decorative elements. While I like most of it, I think that it’s just on the boarder of being too much. Still, it’s an eye-catching cover and I was definitely drawn to it.
Overall Rating: 3.75/5 Glass Slippers 👠
I always enjoy a good fairytale re-telling, and I think this was a really solid one. Teller delivers on characterization and world-building. I really connected with Agnes, the stepmother, and her daughters. Agnes’s story spanned the length of her life, so Teller is able to craft a really original story that slowly connects the dots to Cinderella’s story.
The only thing I didn’t really care for was Teller’s rendering of Cinderella herself, who comes across as not very likable, even bordering on strange. For me it ended up taking down my enjoyment of the story.
But otherwise, I thing it’s a well-written story with really memorable characters and an original plot that kept me entertained throughout. I would definitely recommend it to readers who love re-tellings, though maybe not to die-hard Cinderella fans. They might be a bit disappointed by this particular rendering of Cinderella.
Thoughts & Thanks
Thank you so much for reading this post. I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you have read it. If you’re considering reading it, let me know what you think, once you do. And as always, happy reading!