Last November, I reviewed a retelling of The Little Mermaid story, Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon. I enjoyed the atmospheric writing, so I was pleased to be approached by the publisher to review Turgeon's newest book, The Fairest of Them All. A blending of the Rapunzel and Snow White fairy tales, The Fairest of Them All imagines that Rapunzel was Snow White's step-mother. Bought up by Mathena, who she believes to have her best interests at heart, Rapunzel falls for Prince Josef after a chance meeting in the forest. Too naive to know the difference between love and lust, she uses an enchantment to create a bond between them that eventually leads to their marriage after the death of his wife in suspicious circumstances. Her new step-daughter Snow White brings only joy into her life. Rapunzel has everything she thought she ever dreamed of, but did Mathena really have her best interests at heart?
One of the things I really enjoyed about The Fairest of Them All was Rapunzel's character development. She starts out the novel as an extremely innocent and gullible young girl and learns the hard way that life isn't a bed of roses, and that what we want may not always be the best thing for us. In the beginning chapters, I was wondering how Turgeon was going to pull off making Rapunzel the evil step-mother later in the novel, as she is so sympathetic initially. But the change was gradual and well planned and more importantly, fit with the events in the book. Rapunzel had a depth of character that she doesn't have in the original fairy tale, Turgeon shows her as both good and evil. This makes it easy to relate to her, even when you don't agree with her.
In fact, all of the characters were more developed than they were in the originals. Life for them was more realistic, with difficult decisions and set-backs. Rapunzel's struggle to have a child and all the emotions that went with it felt believable. Some gritty, real-life things happen (especially to Snow White at the end of the novel) and you got the sense that the characters could have had different endings, if only they had made different decisions. I loved that Turgeon added this depth to the fairy tales, whilst still keeping the fairy-tale atmosphere through the descriptions of the forest and the way the seasons were used as a back drop to the plot.
Whilst reading The Fairest of Them All, I couldn't help but compare it to Kate Forsyth's Bitter Greens, which blends the Rapunzel fairy tale with elements of historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed The Fairest of Them All, even more so than Mermaid, as it was well written, engaging and contained interesting moral ambiguity, but I do think that Bitter Greens was a more innovative way of retelling the Rapunzel story.
You will enjoy The Fairest of Them All if:
- You enjoyed fairy tales as a child.
- You enjoy complex characters who change due to the events they experience.
- You like the darker side of fairy stories.
- You don't mind a bit of moral ambiguity.
Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Publication Date: 6th August 2013
Score: 4 out of 5