“Fairest” is a retelling of an old fairy tale. The main goal of the authoress is to give life to the wooden characters (now, after so many movies of them, really caricatures), and flesh them out more . If you don’t know the fairy tale really well, it probably won’t hit you until about the end of the book. This was written by the authoress of “Ella Enchanted”, and it should be noted that the BOOK of that title is infinitely different and far superior to the movie that was produced by the same name. Personally, I like this newest offering better; the writing style is more mature, and… well, read on.
Plot: An ugly girl with a pretty voice, who was adopted by kindly innkeepers, learns that her voice has several special talents. In this land, singing is the preffered method of speech, so despite her outward appearance, Aza is beloved for her ability to sing beautifuly. Aza can also mimic other people’s voices perfectly, and make her voice sound like its coming from another part of the room. Between this and her kind heart (SPOILER: she also has exceedingly black hair, blood red lips, and a round face with skin as white as snow,… oh, and yeah, she is poisoned by an apple at the end, only to be saved when the Prince knocks it out of her throat. Yes, in the original Snow White, she is not saved by a kiss, and I was rather impressed by that particular bit of attention to historical detail. END OF SPOILERS), she ends up becoming the lady in waiting of a beautiful, ruthless queen. Said queen will do anything to stay beautiful, and thus does everything that the source of her beauty, a magical being called Skulni, tells her to. The queen gets the monarchy into all sorts of trouble, and Aza is framed for it (the only person in the palace who believes her? The Prince, who also happens to see past her looks and… hey, I said it was twisted fairy tale, not a contorted one!). There are several subplots, involving the history of fairy-tale-land, court deception/intrigue, cute animals, and our heroine’s pursuit of being pretty in an appearance-obsessed court.
Pluses: Very well written, and engaging storyline. Makes you think about fairy tales in a new way. Refreshingly for a modern book (this was published in 2007), the men actually get manly roles and the women are, generally, quite feminine. That feminity, however, is not associated with stereotypical weakness; Aza is noted for being hefty, and has the strength that comes with a healthy weight. Also, most of the people in fairy-tale-land sing instead of talk, so there are a lot of fun “songs” in the text. Not all of them rhyme, but most qualify as poetry, and generally are quite pretty odes to themes like home, love, real beauty, etc. When our heroine decides that being good is better than being beautiful, given the choice, she is rewarded for it in multiple ways. The bad side of magic is given plenty of air time, with a not-so-very subtle message that you don’t want magic used on you or the ones you love (unusual for a fairy-tale story, and one of the reasons I really liked this book. Every use of magic has bad side effects for everyone involved, whether it was intended as an act of malice or as a wedding gift. This point is established with humor, but the overall morale is relatively clear.) Technically, this is a book for the teenager, but the narratives by Aza use such a beautiful, semi-mediveil language that it really is more for the college age group.
Minuses: Magic is discussed and used by fairies and other fairy-tale-like beings. Our heroine uses magic (with undesirable results, more on that in pluses). Violence includes people being hit with projectiles, coma-like state, smashing mirrors, fainting, imprisonment, various threats by guards, references to wars with ogres and how badly ogres treat their prisoners, poisoning, and, talk of assassination and of trying to kill people… nothing very graphic (no blood described). Two kisses, one before marriage, some ladies are described as having low-cut gowns, nothing else objectionable on that front. And lots of lying and deception and intrigue, almost all rebuked.
Overall: Very recommended. Either for personal entertainment, or as a read-aloud for the 7-and-up audience.