January 16, 2008
Fairest by Gail Carson Levine
When I reviewed Ms. Levine’s previous novel, Ella Enchanted I said that it was a nice story but that the writer hadn’t quite found her voice yet. Well, she definitely did in Fairest. It seems to be better developed- the characters and the story are more complex, and while the Kingdom of Khyrria in Ella is a rather generic fairy-tale realm, the reader gets to explore the neighboring land of Ayortha in this book. Ayortha is a fascinating culture, where singing plays a role in all aspects of life- ceremonies, communication, magic.
The protagonist of this story is Aza, the daughter of an innkeeper. While Aza is not seen as attractive by Ayorthaian standards, she has a gorgeous singing voice. Aza goes about her rather ordinary life until by chance, a Duchess stops by the inn. Her companion has become sick, and so she chooses Aza to replace her. This path leads her eventually to become the lady-in-waiting to Queen Ivy, after she discovers Aza’s ability to throw her voice. Ivy, a native of Kyrrhia, is not much of a singer and finds herself rather out of place in a country so focussed on the art.
It’s hard to tell until one is pretty far into the book, that it is based on another classic fairy tale. Can you tell which one? Snow White. Queen Ivy seizes power when her king falls sick, and Aza is caught between her and the dangers of a magic mirror. The tale of Fairest is a deftly woven fabric, with many surprising plot twists. It’ll definitely be worth a re-read at some point.