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Review: Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

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Review: Fairest by Gail Carson Levine

Postby eleika » Thu Nov 30, 2006 10:21 am

(Cross-posted at Delirium)

The one-trick pony rides again.

To me, nothing is more frustrating than watching an author put out an amazing novel, realize that s/he has done something new and laudable, and then proceed, like a child, to repeat the act ad nauseum, or at least until people stop buying books. It’s infuriating. Clearly the author has talent, or s/he wouldn’t have been able to manage the trick in the first place. So why isn’t that talent being put to better use?

I admit that I approach this topic with some bias. I’m almost as sick of stories based on fairy tales than I am of those based on Arthurian legend. There’s something about true creativity, original ideas, and just darn good fantasy that is so much more appealing than anything based on a story we’ve already heard. But if fairy tales are to be believed, sixteen is the most marriageable age, magic solves everything, and there’s always a handsome Prince Charming waiting just around the corner to save us girls from danger and the dreary life.

When Gail Carson Levine wrote Ella Enchanted, it was a trifle silly for my liking, but I enjoyed it all the same. There’s something about the tale of Cinderella that is forever appealing, and I thought it as equally valid an interpretation as Drew Barrymore’s was in the movie Ever After. (Sheesh, even Hilary Duff’s A Cinderella Story rendition, when passed through the lens of the glitzy, idealized, modern California teenager, has merit. Just not much.)

Okay, lady. You’ve shown us what you can do. Now take your creativity and run.

Unfortunately, Levine’s latest work is Fairest, a retelling of Snow White set in the same world as her first gem. This novel wouldn’t be so bad, except that it follows a series of short works entitled The Princess Tales, which are all retellings of fairy tale classics, and some writing for Disney, with a tale set in the company’s wonderfully bastardized version of Never Never Land.

I’ll be fair: she’s got two works out there that aren’t, as far as I know, based on already-perpetuated myth. Yet The Two Princesses of Bamarre might as well have been set in the lands near Ella Enchanted, complete with seven league boots and a feast-serving tablecloth version of the “cook little pot, cook”. I haven’t read Dave at Night, which is apparently set in our world, but then again, it’s not Fantasy, and according to one review, “lacks the wit and lively writing of … Ella Enchanted”. So I doubt I’ll be reading it in the future.

In some ways, the book had a lot of power behind it. If it were a modern story, it would be about a fat girl realizing that she’s beautiful even if not everyone sees it. Self-esteem issues run high for both Aza (aka Snow) and her nemesis. This time, it’s not dwarves, it’s gnomes, but the wicked queen, the poisoned apple, and the prince who saves her are all the same. I don’t regret reading Fairest, not at all, but something tells me that if Levine bothered to try, she could write a darn good fantasy story without a hint of fairy-tale about it.

Until then … well, this certainly was an interesting twist, but with one problem: we’ve seen this act already. I don’t know if I’ll stay around to see it again.
Eleika's Stuff: www.eleika.com
Rants and Reviews: http://delirium.nightgig.com
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