Friday, November 17, 2006
Fairest - by Gail Carson Levine
Fans of Ella Enchanted will be so happy to learn that Gail Carson Levine has published her own version of Snow White and it has numerous connections to Ella Enchanted. Ella’s best friend was Areida, a girl from the kingdom of Ayortha. Fairest takes place in Ayortha and the main character is Aza, a 15 year-old girl who was adopted by Areida’s family after she was abandoned at the inn they run when Aza was only one month old.
Aza has always assumed that she was abandoned because she is so ugly and out of place in a kingdom that highly values beauty. She is larger and wider than everyone else and her pale skin and black hair seem strange among the other Ayorthaians. She spends her time helping at the inn trying to avoid the guests who can’t help but gawp at her, but Aza is not without her charms. The Ayorthaians also value singing voices and she was born singing arias instead of crying. One day while cleaning a room she discovers she has the ability to throw her voice in a magical way which she calls illusing.
One of the inn’s frequent guests is a duchess who becomes fond of Aza because Aza cares for her pet. When her traveling companion becomes ill she chooses Aza to attend the King’s wedding with her. Aza is terrified at the prospect, but upon arriving at the castle she meets the Queen-to-be and after she discovers Aza’s illusing powers, they become quick friends. At first when the queen asks Aza to be her Lady-in-waiting, she doesn’t suspect ulterior motives, but they soon become clear and Aza is stuck working for the Fairest of them All.
I found this book a little heavier than Ella Enchanted; maybe because there’s so much negative focus on Aza’s appearance or maybe because there isn’t as much humor in it. I love figuring out the elements of Snow White that the author decided to keep and the connection to Ella Enchanted (another gift from the fairy Lucinda is causing trouble in this novel too). I really enjoyed Gail Carson Levine’s unusual twists that make Fairest so much more than just a Snow White story.
I was a little bothered with how passive Aza was, but I guess that’s just the nature of Snow White. I’d still highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good fairytale.