Sunday, 11 August 2013

The Fairest Of Them All - Carolyn Turgeon

Fairest Of Them All - Carolyn Turgeon
ISBN - 9781451683783
Publisher - Touchstone
Release date - August 6th 2013
Find - Book Depository/AmazonUK/AmazonUS/Barnes & Noble

'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
- Goodreads

Let me start off by saying I'm probably slightly biased about this book as I've read Carolyn's other fairy tale re-tellings and absolutely adored them! This one turned out to be just as good if not better and I loved it! This is the second adult retelling of Rapunzel I've read this year, the first being Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and quite honestly I don't know which one I prefer!

Fairest Of Them All is not only a retelling of Rapunzel, it's also the story of Snow White and exactly how she came to have a wicked step-mother with a talking mirror. When we first meet Rapunzel she is completely innocent and living with Mathena Gothel, her adoptive mother and local healer (or witch if you want to be blunt), who rescued Rapunzel from her uncaring parents and brought her to live deep in the heart of the forest. Rapunzel sleeps in an abandoned tower and has ever-growing, long, long, blonde hair, trailing behind her like a living entity, beautiful but strong enough to climb with. True to form, a handsome prince appears and Rapunzel is in love - this prince has a secret though, he can never be Rapunzel's as he is betrothed to another woman to save his kingdom from war. Rapunzel accepts this and resigns herself to a life in the forest with Mathena, learning all her secrets and enchantments.

As we all know though, things can change, particularly when a certain character is quietly manipulating both events and other characters from behind the scenes, impossible to tell whether it's for good or evil, for their own benefit or to help someone. Rapunzel is desperate to be with Josef, by now king, but Mathena says have patience and that what she wants is in her destiny but only when the time is right and that she must let the king come to her. Sure enough, Rapunzel finds herself married to Josef and step-mother to a girl with hair as black as ebony, skin as white as snow and lips as red as blood, with that mirror as a wedding present and reminder of home. It's with this move from the forest to the palace that things start to pick up a little. We're introduced to Gilles, the falconer or the huntsman as we traditionally know him and various other characters who all have a part to play in the proceedings. From here on in, the tales of Rapunzel and Snow White start to veer away from the ones we know and love. Events are unfolding and heading towards what we think we know is going to happen but without going into detail there is one doozy of a 'twist in the tale'. I still think about that twist and the ending of the story now, it's definitely one that sticks with you and as far I know is pretty unique. I've not read any fairy tale retelling similar to this, adult or not, although having read Carolyn's other books I shouldn't be at all surprised by the turns that her stories take.

Rapunzel, Mathena and Snow White are all strong female characters, complete with flaws. Rapunzel is never intentionally 'evil' to start with unless pushed, although she does use her will and enchantments to get her own way. This is especially demonstrated by the way she used to call Josef to her, knowing he was betrothed, before Mathena 'hid' her presence in the forest to set her plan in motion. Although I loved Rapunzel I'm not sure whether my favorite character was actually Mathena or Snow White. It was fascinating to see the story of Snow White from a different perspective, growing up loving Rapunzel and becoming the proverbial stroppy teenager, pushing her beloved step-mother away and taking her place as 'fairest of them all'. This is effectively what pushes Rapunzel over that line, causing what most people would probably call a psychotic break! Mathena was intriguing, hidden from everyone including Rapunzel with her super power of knowing what people are feeling by touching them with her hair. At times Mathena appears completely ambiguous and there are occasions where you actually feel sorry for her, even knowing that yes, she is actually evil.

Ultimately, this is a dark and twisted mash-up of Rapunzel and Snow White, it's most definitely not Disney. With wonderful characters and beautiful writing that flowed from page to page, The Fairest of Them All is without doubt one of the best fairy tale retelling I've read in a long time. I find it interesting that my two favorite retellings this year are both very different versions of Rapunzel! I shall now patiently wait for Carolyn's next book which is possibly something to do with Dante's Beatrice set in thirteenth century Florence which sounds fascinating (even though it's not a fairy tale) and hopefully isn't too far away in the future. Also, if you haven't already please do read Godmother and Mermaid, if you love fairy tales retold in a less than conventional manner and with a more 'mature' voice you'll love them both!

Thanks to Touchstone and Netgalley for my copy of The Fairest Of Them All and to the Fantastic Flying Book Club for letting me take part in this wonderful tour!

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