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#83 Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Aza was not born fair. Her skin is pasty pale, and her are lips blood red. She has never grown use to the way that people stare at her while she works at her family's inn, nor the spoiled guests who refuse to be served by someone so “ugly.” But there is one thing very beautiful about Aza, her singing voice. In a country where people sing as often as they speak, this is a wonderful gift to have. When Aza is unexpectedly taken in as a lady's companion, she finds herself traveling to the palace. Through a twist of fate, she begins to rise among the ranks of nobility, but will the cost for her new found luck be too high?

I first read Fairest soon after it was released, and found it to be a fun read. When I learned that Full Cast Audio had put out an audiobook, I became intrigued. When I saw that someone had written music for all of the singing parts, turning the book into a musical, I knew I had to give it a listen. Although the result is flawed, I have to admit that I really enjoyed this interpretation of Fairest. Like all Full Cast Audio productions, every character is voiced enthusiastically. I felt that all of the casting choices fit the characters very well. The singing was also quite good, although I have to admit that it was a little strange at first when the characters began to break into song. Sarah Naughton plays the role of Aza. Although she didn't quite live up to Aza's “almost impossible voice,” I found that she did quite a good job with her role. The actual melodies of the songs, composed especially for this production, are admittedly nothing I would go out of my way to buy a soundtrack for (were one available). Still, I felt that they were mostly pleasant. At their worst, they were awkward.

As far as the story goes, I enjoyed reading Fairest just as much as I did the first time. Fairest is a retelling of the fairy tale Snow White, but a very loose retelling. We have magic mirrors, and poisoned apples but the author reaches far beyond the confines of the original fairy tale. I think this pays off. Although the story is not quite as engaging as Levine's Ella Enchanted, or The Two Princesses of Bamarre, it's easy to sympathize with Aza. I enjoyed watching her develop from a meek young girl, to someone more confident. I have to applaud Levine for creating a heroine that is considered physically attractive, and not resolving the book by having all of her problems solved by becoming pretty. This seems to be a rarity in fantasy, where female protagonists range from stunningly beautiful, to rather plain. I also feel that the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” message that arises may be very comforting to adolescent girls who feel like they don't meet society's airbrushed standards of beauty. I also must applaud Levine for creating such as original setting, where people often break into song. Admittedly, there are some times where the lyrics feel more like dialogue than actual music (which is probably why some of the songs felt so awkward in this production), but I was happy with most of the songs.

Fairest is a pleasant fairy tale retelling with an interesting protagonist and plenty of adventure. Full Cast Audio has done something truly ambitious in writing music for all of the songs in the novel, and I feel it pays off in the end.

Rating: four stars
Length: the print version is 326 pages
Source: Lewiston Public Library
Similar Books: For other fairy tale retellings appropriate for the tween set, check out both Rapunzel's Revenge (my review) and Princesses Academy by Shannon Hale, and Levine's own Ella Enchanted.
Other books I've read by this author: Ella Enchanted, The Two Princesses of Bamarre

xposted to temporaryworlds , bookish , and goodreads
Tags: audiobook, fairy tales, fantasy, four stars, gail carson levine, reread, year published: 2006, young adult

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