Khanh the Killjoy

The Fairest of Them All

The Fairest of Them All: A Novel - Carolyn Turgeon "Mirror, mirror, on the wall,” I whispered, in the faint light of the fire, after I’d calmed down and let my rage melt into sorrow. “Who is the fairest of them all?”I wiped tears from my face, and peered in to see. I blinked and saw my own tear-stained face, my eyes huge and full of pain, fury.“Rapunzel is the fairest,” the voice said.I focused all my desire, my pain and rage, my humiliation, down into a point of light, but now there was nowhere to go. What else was there, beyond this?This is an alternative fairy tale, using the story of Rapunzel and Snow White, where Rapunzel is the evil queen. I was worried that it would be too literal of a combination of the two tales, but it was indeed a very well done interpretation of both stories, with just enough of a twist on both to make this book original without feeling like too many liberties were taken to completely screw up the original stories. I'm quite nitpicky when it comes to the latter, and this book satisfied all of my expectations.The book shines in its characterization of Rapunzel and in the beautiful writing. I absolutely loved how Rapunzel was portrayed, and how her character grew from an innocent, naive teenager with the simple mindset of a sheltered child, to someone who could be utterly believable as a complex, seemingly evil Queen.I have to admit, I had some really, really bad misgivings about this book when I first started reading it. I think it's understandable, because Rapunzel, in all of her naiveté does some unbelievably stupid things within the first 10% of the book that just made me want to throw the book down for good. For example:- We find out that she remembers nothing about her life before living in the forest with her adopted mother, Mathena. Why? Mathena says her parents are bad people, and so has given her an amnesia-inducing herb to make her forget all the bad things that happened to Rapunzel when she was with them. Rapunzel completely buys it.- Rapunzel meets and insta-loves the handsome Prince Josef. She then proceeds to go against Mathena's advice to stay away from him, and instantly hates her for denying Rapunzel the chance to meet him again, despite having trusted Mathena completely for the previous 10 years of her life.- She casts a spell to seduce Prince Josef and make him fall even more in love with her...which turned out to be an unbelievably stupid decision.Luckily, Rapunzel's character grows so much more after that. She is a stunningly beautiful wild child; growing up in the forest with her "witch" of a mother, she is so cloistered that her initial innocence can be forgiven. Through her heartbreak after her disastrous encounter with Prince Josef, she grows, over the next few years, into a wiser woman, but that in no way prepares her for her eventual destiny: that of becoming a queen.Rapunzel is completely overwhelmed at court. She has only ever had Mathena for company, and her encounters with people were limited to the women who come to Mathena's cottage seeking herbal or magical assistance. She is scared, she is terrified, she is bewildered: talk about a fish out of water. For the past seven years, all Rapunzel has ever longed for is to be with her beloved prince---now king, but she is utterly unprepared for the ostentatiousness, the loudness, the sheer number of people surrounding her in her new life.It is not an easy life, despite its opulence: the old ways mix with the new. Rapunzel's pagan upbringing with her knowledge of magic and herbs, is completely at odds with the new Christian ways of the court, where the previous queen's devoutness is legendary, and where an insidious, charming new priest, Father Martin, has enraptured the people. She has such a difficult time at first: the court is full of the malicious rumors of the new queen---a supposed witch---whom the king has married entirely too soon after the death of the beloved Queen Teresa.Rapunzel endures their whispers, their gossip, their stares. She adapts, she learns, she matures, and she eventually becomes someone she hardly recognizes in the mirror.I focused on my beauty, which was easier to control. I rarely ate, so that my waist would be more narrow. I used every spell I knew to make my skin smoother and my hair more lustrous, my eyes brighter. I had Clareta brush oils through my hair to make it shine.I was not unaware of the irony, that I was starving myself and surrounded by riches when people were going hungry because they had no other choice, outside the castle walls.But I was a queen.Her evolution is a heartbreaking one; Rapunzel has ample reasons for her pain, and I empathized with her through every moment of it. Rapunzel's narration and character development is the highlight of the story. I was pleasantly surprised at the depiction of the relationship between Rapunzel and Snow White, it was certainly nothing I had anticipated at all. Their relationship is real, Rapunzel's love for her is endearing, the progression of her jealousy, the insidious seeds that grew therein were brilliantly portrayed.I loved the gradual resolution of the questions and mysteries throughout the book; the plot lines were resolved very well, and there were no blatant plot holes. The world is a vague idea of Europe, beautifully described, from the wildness of the forest to the ostentatious king's court; we are never given a definite time and place, but certain names and artworks are referred to (like Dante's Inferno and the Unicorn tapestry) to give us a feel of medieval Europe. There are well-built themes of old vs. new, good and evil, paganism vs. Christianity.The characters are mostly well done, all the different relationships within the book were so well-built in their development and in their eventual failure. One flaw I found in the book is the characterization of Snow White. I didn't feel like Snow White was a good character. She is beautiful, certainly, but I felt that her character was a little...flat, compared to the rest. Outside of Rapunzel's complex relationship with her, as a character, Snow White is largely one-dimensional on her own.The first part of the book was slow, but it eventually became such a wonderful story. This is how a fairy tale retelling should be done.