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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review: THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL by Carolyn Turgeon

As promised, here are my thoughts on Carolyn Turgeon's The Fairest of Them All, as part of the Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club book tour. Make sure to stop by my excerpt vlog of TFOTA, and enter to win a signed copy

The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon
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Fairytale retelling, 288 pages
Published August 6th 2013 by Touchstone
What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? From the author of Godmother and Mermaid, The Fairest of Them All explores what happens when fairy tale heroines grow up and don’t live happily ever after.

Living in an enchanted forest, Rapunzel spends her days tending a mystical garden with her adoptive mother, Mathena. A witch, Mathena was banished from court because of her magic powers, though the women from the kingdom still seek her advice and herbal remedies. She waits, biding her time to exact revenge against those who betrayed her.

One day Rapunzel’s beautiful voice and long golden locks captivate a young prince hunting in the forest nearby. Overcome, he climbs her hair up to her chamber and they fall into each other’s arms. But their afternoon of passion is fleeting, and the prince must return to his kingdom, as he is betrothed to another.

Now king, he marries his intended to bring peace to his kingdom. They have a stunning daughter named Snow White. Yet the king is haunted by his memories of Rapunzel, and after the mysterious death of his wife, realizes he is free to marry the woman he never stopped longing for. In hopes of also replacing the mother of his beloved daughter, the king makes Rapunzel his queen.

But when Mathena’s wedding gift of an ancient mirror begins speaking to her, Rapunzel falls under its evil spell, and the king begins to realize that Rapunzel is not the beautiful, kind woman he dreamed of.

Awhile back, I reviewed Carolyn Turgeon's Godmother, which - behind its deceptively fluffy, psychedelic-bright cover has a powerful, ambiguous story lurking - and the strength and uniqueness of the story and writing made me immediately bump anything else by Turgeon up my list in priorities. Especially being someone who's maybe a tad bit obsessed with fairy tales and retellings, I'm always on the lookout for one that's going to surprise me or give me something beyond ballgowns and dashing princes. And having now read Godmother and The Fairest of Them All, I'm confident that Carolyn Turgeon will be an author I can go to for these stories. She always brings something different to the table, and she does so with an engaging finesse that draws the reader along.

The Fairest of Them All is a more straight-forward tale than Godmother, in some ways: there's no alternating chronology, no questions of which interpretation of the story is the true one, and questions of whether we're being led along by an unreliable narrator (or at least, fewer of those questions)... Fairest is simply a mash-up of the tales of Rapunzel and Snow White. But though it may be more straight-forward in the telling, I think it just makes things more subtly complex. In seeking to show how the much-loved, gentle-souled Rapunzel could become the "evil" queen/stepmother to Snow White, the story plays with the reader's expectations of these tales, with the events and experiences that shape a person (and can twist a person), giving depth to- and painting complex, sympathetic characters of- not just Rapunzel, but of all the would-be villains and the could-be boring heroes. In what is really a very short book, Turgeon manages to recreate the characters we think we know from the tales, and then embellish them and make them more human, more relatable, and far more interesting.

Turgeon simply has a way with characters*. She creates very compelling people with believable motives and reactions, even when everything around them is outlandish and less believable. But they're dialed up a notch - they are believable, but they're never boring; they're quirky and strange and slippery. There's always something a little off in their stories (intentionally, I mean. That little something that leaves you questioning), and it makes them hard to peg in a really lovely way. In this, I think they fit their worlds and reflect them beautifully; like her characters, Turgeon creates worlds that are rooted in something we know - an era, a culture, a city, a history - but then she begins playing with what we know, twisting it and shaping it into something that allows for the fantastic, that makes it seem to fit, seem right, like of course there is magic and witches and prophecy.

And because it's Carolyn Turgeon, there is somewhat of a twist, though unlike Godmother, I think it's one most readers will see coming, and I don't mean that in a bad way. It's more that, she has created a surprisingly naive character in the powerful Rapunzel, and the reader begins to realize that far sooner than Rapunzel herself does. Some characters in the story are playing a long game, and other characters in the story find themselves pawns in it. But where some authors would have left it at that, a much more black and white story with a definite villain and definite heroes and not a bit of gray in all the black and white, Turgeon goes beyond that into a story that is more redemptive full of the potential and power that all those gray areas provide, and that a black and white story could never have. Where there is sadness and despair in Turgeon's story - in the stories of Rapunzel and Snow White and the woodsman and Mathena (Mother) Gothel - there is also love and hope. Where there is darkness, there is also light.

*Recently, in an impromptu discussion post, I shared my thoughts on dynamic and static characters. Turgeon shows how enjoyable both can be, when done well, and also how character and world-building strengths can be subtle rather than showy, and still memorable and engaging.


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  1. How did I not know about this book? I'm not sure if I'll grab Godmother, but perhaps if I like Fairest of the All (which I have a feeling I will), then I'll pick it up. I can't say no to a good re-telling, and if the characters have a little more depth in this story than they do in the originals I can't complain.

  2. I ordered this one during FTF because you spoke so highly of Carolyn Turgeon. It came the other day but I haven't got time to read it right now. I am so happy though that you liked it so much. I'll be glad to get to it. I could use a fairy tale mash up!!


  3. Lizzy and Heather, you'll both have to let me know what you think if/when you end up reading it! =)

  4. This sounds like such a fan read and a fantastic concept. I don't mind predictable twists as long as the characters/story is engaging.

  5. I absolutely love fairytales! This book reminds me of the TV show "Once Upon A Time" which also adds depth to the villainous characters, explaining why they are the way they are. I will definitely have to read this book!


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