Kathryn's Reviews > Fairest

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
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Oct 07, 11

bookshelves: childrens, fantasy, fairy-tales-reimagined, 2012-reads
Read in July, 2011, read count: 1

Despite my advanced years, I’m still quite fond of little kids’ books. I have an ever-growing collection of Nesbit, Burnett, Alcott, Montgomery, etc. Gail Carson Levine is also an author I enjoy (and one of the few in this category who is not from the 19th century). Ella Enchanted is probably her best book, and Fairest is set in the same world.

Fairest shares several elements with the tale of Snow White, including magic mirrors and the fact that the heroine has skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony, and lips as red as roses (though she isn’t beautiful). Aza was abandoned near an inn as a baby, and the innkeeper and his family took her in and raised her. In the kingdom of Ayortha, where they live, two things are highly valued: singing and beauty. Aza has none of the latter, but she has an outstanding voice and the ability to compose excellent songs. She also has impressive ability as a ventriloquist.

When the king of Ayortha marries a foreigner, Aza gets taken to court by one of the inn’s repeat guests as an attendant. She meets the prince (the king’s nephew) and gets entangled with the new queen, who is gorgeous but selfish and unwise and has no singing ability. When the queen discovers Aza’s ventriloquist abilities, she naturally compels Aza to sing for her. Events develop from there, and eventually, Aza manages to save the kingdom from the queen, who is being manipulated by her magic mirror, and marry the prince.

Personally, I don’t think Fairest is Levine at her strongest. Maybe my expectations were too high after I read the cover blurb that said that some readers will consider it even better than Ella Enchanted, but I just couldn’t get into the world or sympathize with Aza. Her constant preoccupation with her looks put me off, even though I’ve read other stories where the heroine was similarly preoccupied (see Bruce Coville’s Jennifer Murdley’s Toad) and wasn’t bothered. I also thought the prince was very one-dimensional, particularly as compared to the prince in Ella Enchanted. And I had a hard time visualizing a world where people randomly sing certain sentences; anytime Levine described a sentence as being sung instead of spoken, I would stop and try to figure out how it would be sung. I had a lot of difficulty imagining these occasional sung sentences, although I’ve made up a tune for probably every song in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps my lack of familiarity with opera was a factor.

Fairest isn’t bad by any means, and I’d still recommend it to young adults, but I don’t think it has much to endear itself to actual adults, even those who are inordinately fond of reading books intended for children a third of their age.
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