Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine

Levine, unhealthy as many readers of children’s fantasy know, is the author of Ella Enchanted, a Newbery Honor book that got turned into a wholly inaccurate movie starring Anne Hathaway. One of the minor characters in that book and movie, named Areida (played by Parminder Nagra), is the sister of the main character in Fairest — Aza. All that was a complicated way of saying, I suppose, that this book is a companion novel to Ella Enchanted, but not a sequel.

[Apropos of nothing, I have a cat named Ella. Not after the book.]

Aza is the adopted daughter of a pair of inkeepers in Ayortha, a country where nearly everyone has perfect operatic voices. Aza’s voice is possibly even one of the most phenomenal in the land, and she has an added skill — she can throw her voice. However, she isn’t particularly beautiful, and her looks certainly aren’t in fashion right now. She’s too tall, built too solidly, and with black hair, pale skin, and red lips. — Can anyone guess what fairy tale this retells? Yes, Snow White, of course. — Sometime after Aza is sixteen or so, she is invited to the capital to celebrate the marriage of the king to his queen, who happens to be a commoner from another country. The queen fakes a cold during the wedding ceremony, but as it turns out, she can’t sing — at least not like other Ayorthans. She is very beautiful, though, and somehow convinces Aza to sing for her, and throw her voice so it looks like the queen is doing it. There is a prince, of course — Prince Ijori, the king’s nephew and heir. Can Aza somehow pull off Queen Ivi’s request without getting everyone into a lot of trouble, and still win the heart of the prince, despite her lack of beauty?

The queen is the ‘evil stepmother’; there is a magic mirror, and dwarves, and apples, and all that, but the main story deviates from the fairy tale quite a bit. Continue reading Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine