Saturday, 31 January 2009

Book review - Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Aza lives in the kingdom of Ayortha, where beauty is valued above almost anything. Unfortunately, Aza is definitely not the fairest of them all, however she does have the most beautiful voice. Singing is seen as more important than looks, but her looks have given Aza a shyness and insecurity. She has lived all of her life with her adopted family, who run an Inn, but when an esteemed guest, the duchess, finds that her companion is too ill to accompany her to court to witness the King’s wedding, she takes Aza instead. The new Queen hears her voice and demands that Aza should sing for her while she mimes. The King is injured and the new Queen must rule in his stead, but she makes disastrous decisions, which Aza and the Prince have to try to talk her out of. Aza finds herself in more and more danger as she catches the attention of the Queen, the court, and even the Prince himself.
This is a companion to Ella Enchanted – set in the same world and starring Areida’s family. It is also a retelling of Snow White, which intrigued me. A retelling of Snow White where the heroine is not beautiful is an interesting idea and I was curious enough to know how it would turn out that I wanted to read this book. The cover also played a big part, isn't it gorgeous! It also hides part of the girl's face without just cutting her head off, which seems to be the trend at the moment.
I have a confession – I’m one of what seems to be very few people who thought that Ella Enchanted was only ok, not great. The problem I have with both books is the world in which they are set. It is light-hearted and sweet, too serious to be a parody, yet everything is just too easy for it to feel real. I feel like it’s caught halfway between the two. I don’t mean that I hated Ella Enchanted, just that it felt unsatisfying. I did enjoy Fairest far more, but I have heard reports from Ella Enchanted fans who believe that that one was better.
I loved the way that the Snow White element was worked into the tale, not as the main storyline, but still a supporting plot factor. Some characters, the duchess and zhamM the gnome, were so delightfully eccentric and others were well-developed. The characterisation of Queen Ivi as immature and dependant rather than completely evil was especially refreshing. The romance felt a little forced and I have to say that if a guy thought I was maybe part-troll, I wouldn’t forgive him so easily.

Overall, this book was fun, had some interesting characters and original plot developments. It was an enjoyable read and I think miles better than Ella Enchanted. However, it was still a bit too fluffy, like eating candyfloss instead of a Sunday roast. Candyfloss is fun too though, and as long as you are aware that this is what you are getting, you should enjoy this book. It was well-written and quite clever, I just don’t think that it reached its potential.

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