Author: Carolyn Turgeon
Genre: Young Adult
My Copy: ARC via NetGalley
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: In this kingdom, only one fairy tale can end with happily ever after.
In an enchanted forest, the maiden Rapunzel’s beautiful voice captivates a young prince hunting nearby. Overcome, he climbs her long golden hair to her tower and they spend an afternoon of passion together, but by nightfall the prince must return to his kingdom, and his betrothed.
Now king, he weds his intended and the kingdom rejoices when a daughter named Snow White is born. Beyond the castle walls, Rapunzel waits in her crumbling tower, gathering news of her beloved from those who come to her seeking wisdom. She tries to mend her broken heart but her love lingers, pulsing in the magic tendrils of her hair.
The king, too, is haunted by his memories, but after his queen’s mysterious death, he is finally able to follow his heart into the darkness of the forest. But can Rapunzel trade the shadows of the forest for the castle and be the innocent beauty he remembers?
Fairy tale retellings are often difficult because the author has to step away from the original text and give it their own twist. Carolyn Turgeon’s The Fairest of Them All is a deliciously dark retelling of two beloved childhood stories, Snow White and Rapunzel. Growing up, I didn’t care much for Rapunzel and much preferred Snow White’s tale. When the opportunity came to review Turgeon’s The Fairest of Them All, I couldn’t pass it up! I mean Rapunzel as Snow White’s evil stepmother? Yes, please!
Narration is first person and told via Rapunzel’s perspective. It is in essence, Rapunzel’s story and in many ways, it needed to be told via her narrative. As for the actual tale, it’s your typical Rapunzel story with a few key changes. Mathena raises Rapunzel, saying she saved Rapunzel from her parents because they were neglectful and abusive and teaches her how to be a witch. In reality, Mathena spins spells and knows what type of plants and herbs will heal a body. Together they see women from the kingdom who are afraid to admit they have visited Mathena because magic and witches are forbidden in the kingdom. One day Mathena is out when Prince Josef appears and invites Rapunzel to the castle for the annual harvest ball. Mathena refuses to allow Rapunzel to attend and locks her in the tower preventing her from attending the ball. Upset thinking Josef may think she stood him up Rapunzel devises a plan and uses magic to lure him to her. Excited to spend time with him, all goes well until she hears he is to married. By then she’s already had a night of passion with him and keeps it a secret. Mathena is suspicious, but keeps quiet while Rapunzel secretly longs for Josef and hates his bride. The local women often bring news of the kingdom and when news reaches them that the Queen has died, Mathena puts her plan into place. Suddenly Rapunzel finds herself reunited with Josef and moving into the castle taking her rightful place next to him. Rapunzel soon finds out that life with Josef isn’t a happily ever after.
Character development is strong and even though it’s told via first person narrative, I felt as if I got to know everyone personally. Turgeon has created complex characters that are believable and come to life on page. Each character goes through a personal journey and each have a distinct role to play. Mathena is the heart of Fairest and everyone else are pawns on a chess board. The reader is in for a real treat as we watch Rapunzel’s transformation from a young naive girl to Snow White’s evil step-mother. Turgeon has us questioning how and when this change will occur and when it does, it’s bittersweet. We grow up not being allowed to sympathize with Maleficent or Snow White’s evil Queen of step-mother and yet, Turgeon gives just that with Rapunzel. By letting the reader see Rapunzel’s journey, we are able to witness the changes and why it’s important for her to get her redemption at the end. After all, in fairy tales, villainesses never get to be redeemed and instead are punished and therefore, it makes sense that Turgeon’s Fairest is about love, hope, and ultimately forgiveness.
I really enjoyed Turgeon’s The Fairest of Them All and I loved the emotions it evoked. I grinned when Josef was talking to Rapunzel because it quickly brought back memories of first crushes and young love. On the other hand, one can’t help but feel heartbroken for Rapunzel when she receives news of Josef’s future and of course what his life has been like without her. Her jealousy and bitterness is perfectly normal. I grew frustrated with Mathena, who when pressed for information wouldn’t open up and I kept expecting her to answer questions. Despite her secrecy, one can’t help but feel sorry for Mathena after her history is revealed. Turgeon makes it easy for us to root for Rapunzel and loathe a teenage Snow White. In any game, there is often a loser and in Fairest, it’s Josef. It was difficult to connect with him since he’s off page for a majority of the story and even more so when he marries Rapunzel. He’s too busy running the kingdom and reminds us that even though Rapunzel got her man, what she didn’t anticipate were the duties and work that come along when one is ruler of a kingdom. This too becomes part of Rapunzel’s bitterness as she fails to realize a king’s duty. Turgeon also shows us that the handsome King is very much a human with flaws.
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Carolyn Turgeon is the author of five novels: Rain Village (2006), Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story (2009), Mermaid (2011), which is being developed for film by Sony Pictures, and The Next Full Moon (2012), her first and only book for middle-grade readers. Her latest novel, The Fairest of Them All, comes out in August 2013 from Touchstone/Simon & Schuster and is about Rapunzel growing up to be Snow White’s stepmother. She lives in Pennsylvania and New York and teaches fiction writing at the University of Alaska at Anchorage’s Low-Residency MFA program. She’s currently at work on a new novel about Dante’s Beatrice, set in thirteenth-century Florence.
Question of the day: What spell or potion would you create and what would be its use?