Aza’s voice is the “fairest in the land”, but in Ayortha beauty is as prized and as necessary as a good singing voice. With her dark black hair, chalky white complexion, and blood red lips, as well as her tall, wide stature, Aza was used to being stared at and knew that everyone thought her ugly. She worked in the shadows of her father’s inn, until her special ability (not only does she sing beautifully, she could also mimic and throw voices) landed her the position of lady-in-waiting for the new queen. In court, she could no longer hide in the shadows and found a friend in the King’s nephew, Prince Ijori. However, even as her relationship with the prince deepens, the queen’s jealousy would have Aza running for her life.
Fairest, set in the same world as Levine’s Ella Enchanted, is a retelling of Snow White. As with Ella’s story, I really liked how Gail Carson Levine reworked the fairy tale. Aza’s coloring (the white-as-snow skin, ruby red lips, etc) does not make her beautiful. This story shows that appearance has nothing to do with a person being good or bad, just like in Ella Enchanted, Ella’s tiny feet was explained in a way that had nothing to do with her being a “good” person. At first I was uncomfortable with the way Aza hated herself, and how she wanted so much to be beautiful. I was disappointed when she chose to drink the potion. But as the story moves along, Aza learns that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and accepted that while she would never be beautiful in the conventional sense, she still had qualities that she was proud of.
I liked the songs. Ayortha is a singing country, and I really liked how it was shown in the book – the description of the entire kitchen singing as they cook, Aza’s cleaning song, the composing game she played with the prince, and the Sings. I liked the contrast between Ayortha and Kyrria, where Ella Enchanted was set. The thing that bothered me, though, was that in Ella Enchanted, Prince Charmont wrote to Ella about how the people in Ayortha are silent unless they have something very important to say, and I really do not see this in Fairest. I was also expected Prince Charmont to appear at some point in the story, as he stayed in Ayortha for a year in Ella Enchanted, but I suppose the events didn’t happen around the same time. It would have been nice if it did.
Aza was shy and hated herself for most of the book, but I still found myself liking her, even if it wasn’t as much as I liked Ella. The romance between her and Prince Ijori is less believable than that of Ella & Charmont; they didn’t seem to have a lot of time to really get to know each other, and I think that Aza forgave Ijori a little too quickly. They do fall for each other for reasons other than looks, though, which I guess is better than a lot of romance books I read lately. Other than that, I enjoyed this book a lot. This is probably my favourite retelling of Snow White so far. I’d recommend it to everyone who enjoyed Ella Enchanted, of course, as well as those who enjoyed Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl.
My copy: purchased from Books Kinokuniya KL
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