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*Fairest* by Gail Carson Levine- young adult book review
Also by Gail Carson Levine:

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly
by Gail Carson Levine
Grades 6+ 336 pages HarperCollins September 2006 Hardcover    

Those readers familiar with Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted will be happy to hear that she has tackled yet another fairy tale in her latest novel, Fairest. This time, Levine examines the story of Snow White in her own unique fashion. The elements of the story are recognizable, but there is a definite Levine twist to the traditional story of a wicked witch, a magic mirror and a naïve young heroine. As usual, the writer chooses to tackle the stereotypes and lay them upside down.

Our heroine is the gangly orphan Aza, left at the Featherbed Inn in the Ayorthanian village of Amonta when she was one month old. Adopted by a kindly couple, Aza becomes part of their rather large family. Although she is plain – and even considered a bit ugly by her neighbors – everyone agrees that she has a remarkable singing voice. She even learns a rather odd new skill called illusing – she can throw her voice into other objects and people as if they were speaking. At the inn, she meets several characters who will play crucial roles in her future life – the Gnome zhamM and the duchess. The mysterious Gnome predicts that they will meet again very soon. The duchess takes a liking to Aza and invites her come to the royal wedding as her servant.

The wedding and the festivities are intriguing for naïve Aza. She meets the king, Prince Ijori and the king’s new wife, Ivi. Ivi is so impressed by Aza that she asks her to become one of her ladies in waiting. Unfortunately, when the king is injured and falls into a coma, Ivi becomes a despotic and selfish ruler, and her subjects abhor her actions. Aza discovers a strange secret in the library of the castle: “The mirror – or the potions, or Skulni – may have made Ivi beautiful. She might once have been plain. She might have been as hideous as I was now.” (p. 133) Aza hates her role at court and is eventually forced to flee from Ivi’s wrath. Ivi even tries to have her killed, but Aza is rescued by her Gnomic friends. After finding the magic mirror and hiding with the gnomes for a time, Aza returns in triumph to save the day – and marry the Prince.

Levine once again transforms a rather simple fairy tale into a saga of gnomes, singing contests, potions, poisoned apples and forbidden love. Those who are looking for a Disney version of the Snow White story will definitely not find it here. Aza is a complex character who appreciates nature but also loves the library in the castle with its strange books full of Ayorthianian history and magical spells. Her physical appearance may be plain, but her inner beauty shines through. On the other hand, Ivi, the commoner who marries King Oscaro, may be beautiful on the outside, but her insecurities and her selfish nature are evident to her subjects, who threaten to start a rebellion against her.

Levine’s story is populated with unusual minor characters. King Oscaro spends most of his time in a coma, but finally wakes up and decides that he will forgive the evil Ivi despite her faults. He even decides to abdicate in favor of Prince Ijori and his new wife – Aza. There are strange dancing centaurs, creatures in mirrors, ogres and gnomes. What a strange world Aza lives in. But readers will be very happy to hear Aza’s parting words:

“And so, with song and love, Ijori and I, our family, and our beloved kingdom lived happily ever after.” (p. 326)

Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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