Fairest is a 2006 novel by Gail Carson Levine. It is based on the story of Snow White and set in the same world as Ella Enchanted.
Aza, the adopted daughter of innkeepers in Ayortha, has always hated her appearance. Her prodigious size and her odd coloring — milk-white skin, blood-red lips, and hair that seems to be sooty black — often make her the target of stares and rude comments. Be that as it may, Aza's voice garners as much attention as her looks, for Ayortha is a land of song, and Aza is a superb singer. But besides being skilled at singing, Aza can also flawlessly mimic
people and throw her voice without moving her mouth, a form of ventriloquism
she calls "illusing".
While Aza's illusing begins as a simple trick to entertain herself and her family, it acts as a catalyst for her adventures in the book. When the Duchess of Olixo, a irritable guest at the Featherbed Inn, requests that Aza accompany her to the royal wedding, the new queen, Ivi, discovers Aza's gift and manipulates her. As Ivi cannot sing well, she offers to reward Aza with land and riches for her family as well as elevation to the rank of lady-in-waiting in exchange for Aza illusing a voice for her when she needs to sing; when Aza tries to refuse, Ivi threatens to imprison her and close her family's inn.
Soon after Aza reluctantly accepts Ivi's offer, the castle is thrown into turmoil when the King is terribly wounded during a sporting event. Aza is caught in the midst of Ivi's power-hungry plotting, the affection of the king's nephew Crown Prince Ijori, the suspicions of the choirmaster Uellu, and her own increasing desperation to become beautiful, a desperation which grows so strong that she ultimately drinks a beauty potion created by Skulni, the mysterious creature living in Ivi's magic mirror. With the country on the verge of revolt, the inevitable discovery of Aza and Ivi's singing deception leaves Aza fleeing for her life when a jealous Ivi leads to Aza being branded a dangerous ogre.
Exiled, Aza is welcomed by the gnomes; zhamM, a frequent guest at her family's inn, provides her with food, shelter, and a sense of heritage. After she has spent some time with the gnomes, a sinister scheme forces Aza to fight for her life, discover her true source of strength, and ultimately, learn to accept herself.
- Aza – A 15-year-old girl from Ayortha, who was adopted by an innkeeper when she was left in the lark chamber of his inn as an infant. When she was found, she was covered in a velvet blanket with gold trim, leading her family to suspect she is of royal origins. She is insecure about her appearance and is convinced she is ugly, but has a beautiful voice to compensate. She was suspected to be part ogre but is actually part gnome. She can illuse, or throw her voice without moving her lips, and is also an extremely talented mimic. She ultimately marries Ijori, becomes Queen of Ayortha and has three children.
- Ivi – A commoner from Kyrria who becomes Queen of Ayortha after marrying King Oscaro. She blackmails Aza into becoming her singing voice in order to preserve her own reputation. She is self-absorbed, as well as simple-minded, insecure, and concerned with beauty. When her new husband is injured, she uses Aza's voice in order to gain dictorial control of Ayortha. Although typically selfish, Ivi occasionally demonstrates concern for others, staying with her injured husband every night, and helping Aza find fashions which better suit her. She is sent to the summer castle at the end of the book for being too power hungry.
- Ijori – The Crown Prince of Ayortha, the king's nephew and heir to the throne. He first meets Aza in the receiving line at the royal wedding, and is later partnered with her in a song composing game, which they win. Throughout the course of the story, he becomes friends with Aza, and eventually kisses her, but he doubts her when she is accused of being part-ogre and plotting against the kingdom. He soon regains his faith in her, and when she lays dying in Gnome Caverns after eating the poisoned apple, he revives her. They ultimately marry and become King and Queen of Ayortha.
- zhamM – A gnome who frequents the Featherbed Inn. He becomes friends with Aza and welcomes her into his home at Gnome Caverns when she is in hiding. He is a judge and can read into the future to a certain extent, predicting the danger that Aza will find herself in. He teaches Aza about Gnome culture and helps her uncover her heritage; it is suspected that he could be her distant cousin.
- Skulni – The main antagonist of the book. He lives in a mirror given to Ivi by Lucinda, the same fairy who granted Ella of Frell's "gift" of obedience. Those who use the potions of the mirror can become beautiful or take on disguises, but the price they pay is that, at their death, they become trapped in the mirror until Lucinda gives the mirror again, while Skulni takes a holiday. In an effort to obtain his vacation sooner, Skulni expedites the deaths of the mirror owners by preying on their weaknesses, giving them ill advice, and manipulating them; he has negatively influenced much of Ayorthaian history throughout the years. When not in the mirror, Skulni travels under the name "Master Ikulni". He is ultimately defeated by Aza; after she smashes the mirror, he is never heard of again.
Snow White Parallels
Just as the prequel Ella Enchanted
was based on the tale of Cinderella, Fairest
is inspired by the tale of Snow White
, as seen in the parallels between the stories:
- Aza is described as having pale skin, blood red lips, and dark black hair, which are Snow White's defining physical characteristics.
- A magic mirror is a major plot device in both this novel and the fairy tale.
- Ivi sends a guard to kill Aza, but the guard found that he could not bring himself to kill her; instead, he helps lead her to the caverns of the gnomes and returns back to the castle, claiming to the Ivi that he killed her and using fabric torn from her clothing as false evidence. The guard is the Snow White counterpart for the huntsman, whom the queen sends to kill Snow White but instead lets her go and brings back a deer's heart as false evidence for killing her.
- The gnomes are very hospitable and are willing to take Aza into their home, just like the dwarves in the original story.
- Ivi is a queen who is so vain and insecure that egged on by Skulni, the presence in her magic mirror, she attempts to kill Aza, whom she fears has become more beautiful than she is. She attempts to kill Aza by disguising herself (with a magic potion) and giving her a poisoned apple, just like in the original fairy tale. Also on the tray with the apple were combs and laces in the original story.
- The storylines are nearly identical in their endings; the prince and the girl fall in love, marry, and the two take their thrones as rulers of their kingdom.
However, there are also major dissimilarities between the stories, such as the fact that:
- Aza is neither beautiful — with the exception of when she is under a spell — nor is she the stepdaughter of the queen.
- It is the creature within the magic mirror who does the evil plotting in Fairest, rather than the wicked queen; for the most part, Ivi is being manipulated, rather than actually plotting.
- In Snow White, the wicked queen is forced to dance to death in burning iron shoes; in Fairest, she is merely exiled to the summer castle.
Ella Enchanted Connections
- Areida, Aza's adoptive sister, becomes best friends with Ella of Ella Enchanted.
- Lucinda the fairy's magic is a strong element in the plot of both books, as she is the creator of the magic mirror.
- Ayortha and Kyrria, the setting of Ella Enchanted, are neighboring kingdoms.
- Sir Peter, Ella's father, is mentioned as a guest at the Featherbed Inn.