The first in the new A Dark Ascension series from Disney Books, The Wicked Ones examines the story of Cinderella through the eyes of her stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella in the months leading up to the famed Prince’s debut ball.
Readers already know Lady Tremaine as a wicked stepmother, and she more than lives up to the title in author Robin Benway’s story. Through Drizella, 17, and Anastasia, 16, readers witness Lady Tremaine’s demanding and cruel nature as she expects her daughters to catch the Prince’s eye at the ball and thereby improve their family fortunes. Both sisters are reluctant, neither having a love for the music they must perform at the debut ball and worried about their worn clothes and overall appearance next to far wealthier young ladies. Leading up to the big night, two chance encounters set both girls on very different paths than the one Lady Tremaine expects. Drizella discovers a love for science and learning, while Anastasia meets a handsome young man who sees and admires her for who she is.
However, while this is a revisiting of the popular Cinderella tale, the overall mood of The Wicked Ones is dark and moody. Drizella and Anastasia are constantly walking on eggshells to avoid angering their mother while also feeling trapped in their lives with no way out. The girls desire to escape, but feelings of despair is palpable throughout the book as they both find new joys but are terrified of Lady Tremaine discovering them. Benway brings levity to the story with bright spots of humor and hope and does an excellent job of exploring the mental and emotional toll Lady Tremaine takes on both Drizella and Anastasia. Their abuse is both emotional and physical at the hands of Lady Tremaine, and though they aren’t relegated to servants, they are very much at her mercy, just like their stepsister Ella. The story also explores the complex nature of family rivalry and sisterhood as Lady Tremaine pits sister against sister more often than not. Both Drizella and Anastasia internalize the mentality but also clearly have some affection toward one another, making for a unique and complicated sister dynamic.
This intelligent and witty story humanizes the “evil” stepsisters in a fresh and unique way without altering their known attitudes and tendencies to be a bit wicked. Readers will find themselves sympathizing with the girls’ situation, and the novel does a great job exploring what happens when the side characters are given a chance to tell their own stories. The Wicked Ones is an excellent read for teen readers who enjoy a darker mood to their fairytale revisits. Filled with dark characters, twisting stories, and unexpected moments, this witty prequel to Cinderella’s story is a perfect opener to the A Dark Ascension series.
The Wicked Ones is available in bookstores and online now, so be sure to grab a copy!