Leisure Literature: Fairest

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

I’ve wanted to read Fairest by Gail Carson Levine for years. I read Ella Enchanted for the first time many years ago, and I fell in love with the spunky heroine and the well-crafted fantasy universe. The twist on the Cinderella tale was captivating, and it was enough for me to search out other works by Levine and look up her biography, and so forth (something few books are able to get me to do!). I eventually got my hands on Dave At Night, which was equally powerful, matching the absolute hateability of the villain and pity for the hero’s miserable situation. When I found out that Fairest was Levine’s twist on Snow White, I was down.

I finally checked it out from the library last week, and I got through it in about 3 days. However, although I was thrilled to be back in the same fantasy universe as Ella Enchanted is set in, and I adored the singing traditions of Ayortha, the book was a complete letdown compared to her other works.

Although Levine’s non-cliche fairy tale creations are as good as ever, the plot was very weak and the message of the book was ineffectively communicated. Much of the book focuses on the heroine’s dissatisfaction with her straight-up ugly appearance and her unique talent to illuse (throw her voice so that it sounds from a different source than her mouth). A glaring foreshadow in the very beginning of the book was too obvious to be held in suspense by it.

I never found myself cheering for Aza, the heroine; she never seemed to have any driving purpose. She gets sucked up into fortune after fortune, and then misfortune after misfortune. There’s no goal; her only oppression is her own insecurity about her appearance and a tyrannical queen who threatens her distantly-written family.

The villain in this book, Ivi, is ill-exposited, and her opposition is unclear and nowhere as hateable as Hattie from Ella Enchanted or Mr. Bloom from Dave At Night. Not to mention the poor resolution where she ends up being a ‘good guy’ and was only possessed by a not-very-scary spirit.

The Prince Charming sequence is alarmingly similar to Ella Enchanted–the magical falling in love between Aza and Ijori is almost identical to Ella and Char. Yet somehow, Ijori also manages to be less round than Char, and much less convincing and real.

The message of the book, quite clearly, is that beauty’s value is not what we deem it to be, and that whatever you have is beautiful enough. Upon reading the author interview in the back of the book, it’s clear Levine had a message, a vision, but she did quite poorly with it. Not until we meet Skulni do we finally realize that all this going-on about Aza being repulsively ugly has some meaning, and it was far too subtle that it would be sprung upon the reader that Aza’s not pure-human. The sequence in which Aza interacts with Skulni is more than confusing, and the conclusion to the book seems thrown together and, for the purposes of tying up the message, incoherent.

I was looking forward to finally reading Fairest, since Ella Enchanted has become one of my all-time favorites, but unfortunately, it was a big letdown. Unless you truly need to indulge yourself in more of Levine’s Ayorthian lore, reading Fairest will be a waste of time.

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Leisure Literature: Fairest

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