Gail Carson Levine's Fairest will keep you hooked from beginning to end. Like Ella Enchanted, this book is based on a fairy tale - "Snow White," in this case - and the author demonstrates an uncanny ability to stay true to the original story while introducing new and unexpected elements to make it completely unique and original. Aza, the novel's heroine, is refreshingly imperfect - she's deeply self-concious due to the fact that she's considered ugly by other people, which should resonate well with girls who feel out-of-place and awkward. The antagonist, Ivi, is not the evil queen we would expect, but demonstrates a range of emotions and ability for generosity that breaks the one-dimensional villainess convention, which causes Aza to question whether or not they are really all that different. Overall, Fairest is an excellent retelling full of excitment, humor, romance, and lessons that will leave readers deeply satisfied.
An excellent book! One I own! I read it prior to allowing my "tween" daughter read it and it is abou 300 pages and I read it in two days! It is an EXTREEMLY well crafted story! My 6th grade "reluctant reader" chose to read this after reading Levine's "Two Princesses of Bamarre" and hopes to read others by Levine.
When we think of fairy tale heroines, we usually imagine a beautiful, graceful young woman. Tall, wide, and pasty, Aza was abandoned at an inn when she was only a few days old. The innkeeper's family adopted her and she has lived and worked with them ever since. The inn's guests are rarely kind with their comments about her looks, but even after 15 years of hearing them, Aza is still uncomfortable with her looks.
However, Aza has a special gift: her voice. She is an amazing singer and secretly masters the art of illusing, or ventriloquism. She journeys to the king's castle to witness the marriage of King Ascaro to Queen Ivi, a foreigner. There, her voice captures Ivi's attention. Ivi is determined to remain the fairest in all the land, and blackmails Aza into becoming her lady-in-waiting so she can illuse over her own weak voice.
Aza is unhappy at the castle, where her only source of happiness is the prince Ijori. Ivi owns a magic handheld mirror named Skulni which can make gazers look beautiful, and Aza is obsessed with becoming beautiful through any means, including spells and potions. When her life is in danger due to Ivi's manic selfishness, Aza flees to Gnome Caverns where she learns the truth about herself and must grow to accept her looks and gain self-confidence.
While it's a retelling of Snow White, Gail Carson Levine makes it clear that the moral is that no one should judge their worth by their looks.