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by Gregory Maguire

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-039282-7

A revisionist view of Cinderella’s adoptive family dominates this brilliantly plotted fantasy from Maguire, a popular children’s book author whose first adult novel, Wicked (1995), offered a similar reimagining of the land of Oz. The time is the 17th century, the place Holland. And the story begins when Dutch-born Margarethe Fisher brings her daughters from their native England to the thriving city of Haarlem, where a kindly grandfather’s home promises safe haven. But Grandfather has died; preadolescent Iris (who narrates) is too plain to marry, and elder sister Ruth is an ungainly simpleton scarcely able to speak. A beautiful “changeling” child seen through a window confers a kind of blessing on the astonished Ruth, and the resourceful Margarethe quickly restores their fortunes, installing them as house servants to portrait painter Luykas Schoonmaker (“The Master—) and later marrying Luykas’s widowed and wealthy patron, importer Cornelius van den Meer (whose willful, strangely reclusive daughter Clara is that very “changeling”). As Margarethe seizes ever greater riches and power, Iris begins to blossom into a confident young woman whose artist’s eye earns her the respect of both the Master and his handsome apprentice Caspar, becoming a handmaiden-mentor whom the highborn beauty Clara eventually accepts as a sister. Maguire’s patient re-creation of the world of the Dutch burghers builds a solid realistic base from which the novel soars into beguiling fantasy when its links with the familiar Cinderella story become explicit. The visiting Dowager Queen of France arrives in Haarlem seeking a worthy portraitist. A lavish ball, Clara’s enchantment of a Handsome Prince, a climactic fire, and a wonderfully ironic surprise ending all figure prominently in the superbly woven climax and denouement. A ravishing meditation on the truism that “beauty helps preserve the spirit of mankind.” Maguire is rapidly becoming one of contemporary fiction’s most assured myth-makers.