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Gail Carson Levine – Fairest

August 20, 2012

88. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine (2006)

Length: 326 pages
Genre: Mid-grade Fantasy

Started: 07 August 2012
Finished: 08 August 2012

Where did it come from? Bookmooch.
Why do I have it? It’s been a long time, but I assume I wishlisted it after reading Ella Enchanted.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 September 2008.

Being a pretty
singer is no good if no
one can hear the truth.

Summary: Aza, adopted daughter of an innkeeper, was never a pretty child. Too tall, too large, and too plain, but there was one thing about her that was beautiful: her voice. Not only can she sing beautifully – a boon in the country of Ayortha, where music is such an important part of a life – but she can also throw her voice with perfect mimicry. When she is taken to the capital to attend the King’s wedding, she is taken up as a lady-in-waiting to the new Queen, on one condition: that she use her talents to help the Queen pretend to sing, for although she is young and beautiful, she has a weak voice. Aza has no choice but to accept, but when the King is injured, the Queen’s true colors begin to show: vain and impetuous, headstrong and with a jealous temper. Aza must do something to help save her kingdom, but if she speaks up, her part in the deception will be revealed… putting herself and everyone she loves in danger.

Review: I love retellings of fairy tales, and as the rash of recent movies might suggest, Snow White offers a plethora of source material. I appreciated a lot of the things that Fairest did with the original – the contrast between physical and vocal beauty, especially – but in the final analysis, I like my retellings darker than this. Obviously, given the age level of this book (mid-grade to early YA, I’d say), it was never going to be as dark as Tender Morsels, for example, and that’s fine. But although it’s well-written, and held my attention well enough, the whole thing was just a little juvenile for my tastes. The writing was a little too simplistic for me, the constant breaking in to song got on my nerves (a good thing I didn’t listen to the audiobook version, I think!), the romance storyline felt perfunctory and didn’t really grab me, and the end was very much “everyone lived happily ever after,” but not in a satisfying way. The one thing I really, really did like was the one note that seemed more mature than its surroundings, and that was the treatment of Aza’s appearance. For all that most of the ending was overly facile, Aza does not a) instantly become beautiful as a reward for a job well done, or b) have a moment of realization that she’s beautiful on the inside and that’s all that matters. Instead, Levine opts for a more subtle message of self-acceptance and self-confidence, and one that I think was very well done. I just wish the rest of the book had had some of that same level of maturity. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This one would be good for pre-teen girls who like fairy tales, or older readers who want something light and easy, but for those who want their retellings with an edge to them, better to look elsewhere.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

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First Line: I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2012 10:28 pm

    I remember enjoying this one–but I always enjoy Gail Carson Levine’s light fairy tales. I do agree the treatment of Aza’s appearance was the most interesting. I love the way it played with those fairy tale standards!

    • August 29, 2012 10:06 am

      Cheryl – I have only middling luck with midgrade books, and Levine’s are the sort that while there’s nothing particularly wrong with them, there’s just not enough meat there that I can really get in to them.

  2. August 24, 2012 2:31 am

    I have looked at this book a bunch of times, but haven’t actually picked it up. I am curious, but not a burning desire.

    • August 29, 2012 10:06 am

      Kailana – It’s a fast, light read, so worth keeping on your radar for times when you need a break.

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