Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

This story is a fantasy set place in a Kingdom called Ayortha. In this kingdom two things seem to be valued - singing and beauty. The main character - Aza - is abandoned as a child and raised by innkeepers. While she has a beautiful singing voice, she lacks the kingdom's standard of beauty. She is extremely tall with black hair, pale skin and red lips, many even liken her to ogres. As Aza cleans the rooms in the inn, she finds that she has an amazing ability to "illuse" or to throw her voice and mimic the voice of others. It seems, though, that only she is capable of doing this. Despite her lacking beauty, a duchess invited Aza to be her companion to the royal wedding (her intended companion became ill and Aza was the right fit for her clothes). One day while in the royal garden practicing her illusing, the new Queen Ivi realizes her talent and suddenly asks her to be her lady in waiting. Aza is delighted by this offer, especially because it would entail a wage that could be sent to help her parents, and it would allow her to spend time with Prince Ijori, whom Aza found herself attracted to. Sadly, on that same day, the King suffered a dramatic injury that left him incapacitated. With this sudden claim to power, Ivi makes drastic changes to the kingdom, some that even make the people consider rebellion. At the same time, the Queen has trapped Aza into illusing for her, since the Queen cannot sing, and Aza is unable to do anything about it becausethe Queen threatend to throw her in prison and destroy her family. Meanwhile, Aza notices a magic mirror on the Queen's table that suddenly makes Aza appear beautiful. Intrigued by the mirror, Aza finds out that it is controlled by a being called Skulni who is capable of controlling people. The story continues where the Aza and Ijori fall in love and then the people in the castle find out about Aza's illusing and believe that she is controlling the queen and making her do these horrible things for the kingdom. Aza drinks a magic potion which makes her beautiful - furthering the people's suspicions that she can't be trusted. She is sent to the dungeon, but escapes with a guard who was sent by the Queen to kill her . The only reason Aza survives is because she saves the guard from the Ogres. Aza is brought to live with the gnomes who keep her safe, even though the guard tells everyone she was killed. The rest follows the typical Snow White story - poison apple and all, except when she eats the apple, she becomes trapped in the mirror with Skulni and finds out he has some disastrous plans for the future. Needless to say, but Aza won't let that happen. I'm sure you can all guess, then, how the story ends...

While that description is extremely long and detailed, a lot of the story has been left out. The main problem I had with this story was that the back of the book sets up: "A new novel set in the world of Ella Enchanted" I read Ella Enchanted and considered it my favorite book for some time. I went into this book expecting it to be very similar and found it to be completely different. This book was a lot more serious, which was a letdown when I went in expecting some comedy. While it isn't fair to judge a book based on its predecessors, to remind the reader of the previous books leads them to expect a few more similarities than two or three names. Another complaint I have about the book was the emphasis on singing. Multiple songs had been written in the novel because of its importance in the kingdom, but I didn't particularly feel as if they added anything to the novel. True, it created a conflict for Aza as she was forced to illuse for the Queen and it created a stronger created culture, but overall, it was a distraction. I found I could even skip over the songs and not lose anything regarding the plot. I personally felt that half the songs could have been taken out. My final complaint regarding the novel was its importance on beauty. This world already has enough trouble with girls thinking they're not pretty enough, that I don't feel it should be emphasized in fiction. The pay off wasn't even that great. The epiphany that Aza should love herself as she is isn't even that big. Sure Ijori loves her because of her ugliness, but it seems as if she just feels that if he can love her, then maybe she can learn to love herself too. It didn't seem like she really realized that she was beautiful; she just accepted and dealt with what she was given.

Don't get me wrong, this book was a nice read. It has a lot of interesting scenes and I liked the adaptation of Snow White that it presented. Maybe I'm just a bit of a nit-pick and prejudicial because of my favoritism for Ella Enchanted. I just felt that this book didn't lead up to what it led me to expect.

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