Fairest – Gail Carson Levine

My Kindle freezes = I read an actual book. I have a small mountain of Read-Soon books by my bed, so when communication failed with my device I pulled this off the stack.

Aza, the first-person character, is different from everyone around her. As an infant she was abandoned in an inn, and adopted by the innkeepers who have loved her as their own. But there is no getting around the fact that she is ugly in a land that prizes beauty only slightly less than they value song. Song Aza has – her voice is the loveliest in her village. Beauty she does not, to the extent that strangers stare at her and whisper to each other behind their hands: she is too wide, and too tall, and too large overall, and her coloring is wrong, and so on; whether a disinterested party would see her as outright ugly or merely different from those around her is a question that crossed my mind.

I love fairy tale adaptations and fairy tale-esque stories. While this has assorted elements of classic tales – the magic mirror, the handsome prince and the good king with the wicked queen, the common girl raised to great heights, etc. – it is itself, unique. With she added a little later strong overtones of Snow White. Which apparently this really is an adaptation of. Despite the book title and the mirror, I didn’t see it till three-quarters of the way in.

It took a minute to get used to the singing; for everyone to sing random sentences, all the time, was just too odd at first. But, as with a good musical, after a little while it began to seem a shame that everyone doesn’t sing more often. It’s notable that the only person up to no good in this book is the one who doesn’t sing.

The names and created language of the book took more getting used to: vowel sound-consonant-vowel sound, rinse and repeat for additional syllables, from the prince’s dog to the main character; it added up to something I found to more resemble baby talk than a language, but I’m hardly an expert. And then, smack in the middle of it all, the castle cook: Frying Pan. (Who irritatingly always spoke of herself in the third person.) That was bizarre.

Queen (Snow White)

Queen (Snow White) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Overall, it was sweet and insubstantial but a little off somehow. Aza seems to drift along with events like a wood chip in the current, easily led and not prone to doing much to make her life or her position better until it’s almost too late. The king is a nice fellow, and beloved – that’s pleasant. Ivi, his queen, is not nice; she starts out vain and stupid and utterly self-centered, and never changes. Prince Izori must be a nice fellow – he has a dog who loves him – and Aza falls thoroughly in love with him in record time. That little romance (it’s surely not a spoiler to say there’s a bit of romance there?) is not entirely believable; Levine just doesn’t sell it. Or I wasn’t buying. I liked Aza’s family more than I did her, and I liked djaaM the gnome as well. The gnomes were a bit of all right. I did like that one of the reasons the ogres were as dangerous as they were was their skill as sirens. I loved some of the songs – but I hated the ones in the invented language. I wish there had been more to love; I had expected there to be.

But … the cover is utterly lovely.

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