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Review: Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

by Gail Carson Levine

Set in the same universe as Ella Enchanted

In the magical kingdom of Ayortha, music is a part of daily life. Everyone sings, and they sing often. It is a magic that unites the people. Aza, the adopted daughter of an innkeeper, has a talent for song – her voice is beautiful and she is constantly inventing little ditties. But she is ugly, heavyset with dark skin, and for this reason she keeps out of sight of her family's guests. But when a duchess decides that Aza will accompany her to the palace, the girl obligingly goes with her – and once there she falls in love with the crown prince and befriends the newly arrived Queen Ivi. Ivi is a poor singer, so she tricks Aza into becoming her “voice” at public events. Things only get worse when the king is stricken, and Ivi becomes the sole ruler of the land. Ivi will do anything to remain the ruler of Ayortha, and no one will be allowed to stop her – especially not some ugly commoner with the voice of an angel.

Fairest is promoted as a new twist on Snow White, but it definitely doesn't stick exclusively to the source material. Elements of the story remain – a magic mirror is central to the plot, a man helps Aza fake her death, and she hides out with a some dwarf-like people – but the story takes place in a more deeply imagined world than the Grimm version of the fairy tale. The Kingdom of Ayortha has its own traditions, foods, and creatures. Singing is central to daily life, and not just a pretty art practiced by a few. The story also departs from Grimm with the heroine herself. I wasn't certain from the descriptions in the book if Aza was truly ugly or if her beauty was simply not the type popular in her kingdom, but I liked that she wasn't a gorgeous beauty like the traditional Snow White. Unfortunately, the fact that she's unattractive is something that Aza tends to obsess over, which can get annoying.

To me, the success of this adaptation depends on how you experience it. If you get a chance to listen to the audio version of this book, please do so. It is truly a performance worth hearing! A full cast of singers, all of whom sound as if they came fresh from Broadway, sings the songs and brings the story to life in a way that the printed page simply cannot. I loved the audiobook, but when I tried to read the book later it wasn't nearly as good. The song lyrics aren't that good; a pretty voice can disguise their weakness but they just can't stand on their own. I'd give the audio book 5 stars, but the regular book only 3.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Fairest, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Book Reviews by Author, A-H
2011: The Girl Next Door by Elizabeth Noble
2010: Top Ten Unreliable Narrators
2009: Temporary Hiatus


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