Fairest (novel)

Author Gail Carson Levine
Genre Fantasy
Publisher HarperCollins
Publication date
Pages 326
ISBN 0-06-073408-6
OCLC 63178754
LC Class PZ8.L4793 Fa 2006
Preceded by Ella Enchanted

Fairest is a 2006 novel by Gail Carson Levine. It uses some plot elements of the classic Snow White and set in the same world as Ella Enchanted. The kingdom of Ayortha, the setting of the story, is the neighboring kingdom of Kyrria, where Ella Enchanted was set and the story makes several allusions to the previous work.


Aza, the adopted daughter of innkeepers in Ayortha, has always hated her appearance. Her prodigious size and her odd coloring – milk-white skin, dragon tongue lips, and hair that seems to be frying-pan black – are greatly at variance with the land's standards of beauty and often make her the target of stares and rude comments. However, Aza's voice garners as much attention as her looks, for Ayortha is a land of song, and Aza is an amazing singer. 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". Still, Aza is flattered when a frequent visitor to the inn, a gnome named zhamM, tells Aza that her hair is the most beautiful he has ever seen. While her hair looks black to humans, it is the lovely color htun, a dark purplish color, to gnomes. zhamM foresees that they will meet again at some point in the future.

When Aza's sister, Areida, goes to finishing school, the Duchess of Olixo, an irritable guest at the Featherbed Inn, requests that Aza accompany her to the royal wedding because her companion has fallen ill. The new queen, the beautiful Ivi, discovers Aza's unusual musical gift and manipulates her. As Ivi cannot sing well, she offers to reward Aza with land, wealth, and riches for her family as well as elevation to the rank of lady-in-waiting in exchange for Aza illusing a marvelous singing 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 King Oscaro is terribly wounded during a sporting event with centaurs because the king threw himself in front of Ivi to save her. 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 Sir Uellu (a senior official in this land of song), and her own increasing desperation to become pretty and beautiful, a desire which grows so strong that she tries a beauty spell, but instead the spell turns her to stone. Although she recovers, she's left with a marble pinky toe. The incident does not deter her desire to be beautiful, which leads Aza to drink a beauty potion created by Skulni, the mysterious, evil creature living in a magic mirror given to Ivi as a wedding gift from the fairy Lucinda. Aza becomes beautiful, but still remains self-conscious about herself. When the country seems to be on the verge of revolt, Aza and Ivi's deception is publicly discovered by accident. Aza is branded as the dangerous relative of an ogre because of her figure and strong powerful voice and imprisoned, but she escapes with Ivi's guard Uju, who later tells her that he was ordered by Ivi to kill her, but could not now that she is beautiful. They quickly stumble upon Gnome Caverns, fulfilling zhamM's prophecy.

In exile, Aza is welcomed by the gnomes; zhamM provides her with food, shelter, and a sense of heritage. He is surprised by her appearance and then tells her about how she now almost has no htun left in her hair. He assures her that while she is certainly not part ogre, he believes one of her ancestors was a gnome, explaining her strange appearance and htun hair also the point that she can see htun if he holds her hand. She learns that the gnomes can illuse as well though they can't mimic different voices. After Aza has spent some time with the gnomes, Ivi appears, disguised as a gnome, and tricks Aza into eating a poisoned apple. Her spirit is taken back to the enchanted mirror, where she discovers that Ivi's actions have been manipulated by Skulni so that he can take a vacation when Ivi is killed since then Ivi's spirit would take Skulni's place and her spirit would be trapped in the mirror until Skulni returns. Aza manages to destroy the mirror and warn Ivi about Skulni's evil plans through the mirror; the mirror's destruction also removes Aza and Ivi's magically obtained beauty. Aza awakens back in Gnome Caverns with a newfound respect for herself. To her surprise, Ijori is also there, and he apologizes for not defending and believing her.

Aza marries Ijori, King Oscaro finally recovers, and Ivi turns from her evil ways. The King decides to abdicate in favor of his nephew, since he still loves Ivi but does not trust her with having access to power, and retires with Ivi to the southern castle. Aza becomes queen of Ayortha, alongside her husband, now King Ijori. She bears three children, all of whom greatly resemble their father but have htun hair and can illuse just like their mother. Though she does not learn who her biological parents were, zhamM manages to find out that they are distant relatives through a mutual great-great-great grandmother. Aza lives happily ever after along the family that raised her and truly loved her.


Relation to "Snow White"

The name of "Fairest" is derived from the classic fairy tale Snow White, as are numerous plot elements, mainly in the later part of the book: A queen who has a magic talking mirror who is greatly concerned about her beauty, becomes insanely jealous of a younger woman and seeks to kill her; the girl surviving and finding refuge among dwarves/gnomes; the queen disguising herself and poisoning the girl; a prince finally saving the girl and marrying her. However, unlike the original Snow White, who was herself a princess and the old queen's daughter, Aza is a commoner, an innkeeper's daughter who initially gets her position in the royal court by the queen's own favor. The entire first half of the book, dealing with Aza's childhood and her becoming accidentally entangled in court intrigues, has no parallel in the plot of "Snow White". Moreover, Levine adds an ironic twist: Aza, like Snow White, has white skin, red lips and black hair - but unlike Snow White, this does not make her beautiful in prevailing Ayorthaian standards; on the contrary, she considers herself ugly and is so considered by nearly everybody (except for Prince Ijori). Aza's extreme self-consciousness about her perceived ugliness, her efforts to make herself more beautiful and her eventual coming to terms with her appearance have no parallel in Snow White and are more reminiscent of "The Ugly Duckling".


Fairest explores the themes of self-image, self-acceptance, and societies beauty constructs within the framework of a fairy tale setting. Aza is described as unattractive—ugly even, and one can see the effects this label has on Aza. Her self-conscious demeanor and self-loathing are evident in her voice as a character. The way she holds her hand in front of her face out of habit and her anger when she is mocked show how other’s judgments are affecting her. Throughout the text we watch her begin to improve and respect herself, especially when Prince Ijori shows that he loves Aza despite her looks.

One sees these similar themes represented through Queen Ivi, who has let her desire for beauty consume her to the point of possibly selling her soul for beauty. Parallels can be drawn to today’s world and the various struggles teenagers face in relation to body-image and acceptance.


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