2 out of 4 stars
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Virginia Barlow’s debut novel, The Wicked Sister, is a flipped retelling of one of the most iconic fairy tales of all time: Cinderella. However, in this version, we follow Lady Anastasia Covington as she struggles to come to terms with the death of her beloved stepfather, Lord Robert Covington. This death is a massive blow to the family: without Lord Covington’s income from his diplomatic work, Anastasia and Beatrice (Anastasia’s biological sister) now have to learn how to cook, clean, and sell their farmed produce in the village marketplace just to make ends meet. Their shared reality now is a far cry from their previous lifestyles of aristocratic privilege. To make things worse, the malicious Lady Rella, Lord Covington’s daughter from his first marriage, seems to be plotting something even more sinister against Anastasia in order to get her hands on the riches of the Covington estate.
I did enjoy reading this book. The Wicked Sister had action, romance, and a murder mystery too! In fact, I read it in a single sitting; the story flowed well, and the pacing was excellent. Scene and perspective transitions were also done seamlessly, and I was very glad about this, since it definitely helped my immersion and aided in character development (to a certain extent). There were also some minor twists in the book, which I enjoyed, as it added a much-needed element of unpredictability to what would have been a straightforward retelling of Cinderella.
Nonetheless, just as there were positive points, there were also quite a few major flaws present. First of all, The Wicked Sister is not only a retelling of Cinderella, as mentioned, but also, instead of being in the familiar form of the fairy tale, it is now in the form of the 1990s bodice-ripper. A disclaimer: I am certainly not saying that the genre of the bodice-ripper is inherently inferior – I do enjoy a good one every now and then – but rather, in this particular case, character development in the book was compromised as a result.
Consequently, most of the supporting characters were one-dimensional. For example, Prince Percival, Anastasia’s Prince Charming, falls in lust with Anastasia at first sight, and he then horrifyingly conflates it with love. Still, I suppose this oversight could still be condoned to a certain extent; after all, being a retelling of Cinderella, there is still a certain plot trajectory that has to be followed. This is also why I enjoyed the minor plot twists present, as they were refreshing additions to what would have been a straightforward (and dull) story.
In addition, and unfortunately, The Wicked Sister was not professionally edited. There were numerous grammar errors present, such as misspellings and erroneous punctuation. They did detract from the reading flow, but I was still able to maintain my immersion in the narrative due to the fast-moving story, which was fortunate. However, these errors also contributed to the book feeling unpolished, which doesn’t leave a good impression. Still, this could easily be remedied with a couple of rounds of editing.
Therefore, I rate Virginia Barlow’s The Wicked Sister 2 out of 4 stars; I deducted one star for the lack of nuanced character development and another for the sheer number of grammar errors. I would recommend this to those who enjoy risqué fairy tales, as there are a couple of sexually explicit scenes, along with some explicit language.
The Wicked Sister
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