When the Word Nerds were offered ARCs of this book, we realized we might have a different reaction to this one. So, we read it (almost) concurrently to bring you two perspectives for the price of one.
Title: The Fairest of Them All
Author: Carolyn Turgeon
Plot Basics: In this retelling of Snow White, the evil queen is really Rapunzel. She wasn’t banished to a tower to be rescued by a prince, but lived in the forest with her protector, a former member of the Royal Court, Mathena. Together, Mathena and Rapunzel help women through their knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants, studiously avoiding the label “witch.” Eventually, Rapunzel is found by the prince and whisked away to the castle where she eventually becomes Queen. What happens there, and her role in Snow White’s banishment is a twisted path where the lines between good and evil aren’t as clear as the fairy tales want you to believe.
Bethany: There is something about the resetting of a familiar story to me that is magical and so with “Fairest of Them All.”
This is a page-turning mash-up of Rapunzel and Snow White that also has most of the hallmarks of a Southern gothic. (Or Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” with even more darkness thrown in…you know nothing of madness, till you’re climbing her hair). The settings are lush and grotesque at the same time, the evil lurking behind all the facades of beauty. Even the famous mirror really reflects what is the state of Rapunzel’s heart underneath the miles of golden hair.
I was hooked from page one:
I was the girl with the long long hair, trapped in a tower. You have no doubt heard of me.
The prologue sets Rapunzel up as the maligned narrator. I love that set-up (see my attempt of a novel #2) because the reader knows the good guy/bad guy distinction is going to be squishy. I love being drawn in to a character I shouldn’t like but who is telling her story in such a compelling way that I want to like her. Her voice as the narrator blends pragmatism and magic as a matter of course in how she experiences her world. The story lures you in, even when you know Rapunzel may be the witch with the candy-house of a story.
Stacie: I love fairy tale retellings. I thought that the women’s issues raised in this title were fabulous. For example, Rapunzel and Mathena help women rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies, but earn the reputation of witchcraft for their deeds. The very women who seek their assistance are the ones who feed the rumors and stories – a topic paralleled in Sheryl Sandburg’s Lean In.
The ending of the story is what made the overall reading worth while for me. I don’t want to give anything a way, but I was questioning if this was going to be worth reviewing.
Bethany: I wanted more of Gilles, the huntsman, to understand his role but that doesn’t work in a first person POV novel though. I actually thought Rapunzel at times could have been more introspective. If she had been, Stacie wouldn’t have finished it, I’m guessing
Stacie: As much as I wanted to like this book, I was disappointed. It was more literary and less, I don’t know, fun? than I expected. The themes were dark and gruesome, which I did expect, but the tone and voice of the author was off putting, for me. It very well could be that I wanted something else, when I was reading it. But I had the same problem with it as I did with Wicked – too many words to tell a pretty basic story.
On the other hand, I love Victorian literature, especially Jane Austen. I find it fascinating. Thrilling! even. But this wasn’t thrilling to me. It was slightly tedious.
The Word Nerds Recommendation: Bethany says read it!
And Stacie says maybe. It ended up worthwhile.