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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.
I was so excited when I found out I was going to be a stop on the book tour for The Fairest of Them All, and when I had the beautiful book in my hands, I think I squealed some. This book was really quite incredible and a masterful rewrite and combination of two popular fairy tales.
The two main women in this story are Rapunzel and Mathena, who is the witch that cares for Rapunzel. Both are strong and complicated characters with layers and secrets a bit darker than most. Between the beginning of the book and the end, you will not look at either of these characters the same again. We see Rapunzel over the course of several years and her transformation from an innocent young adult to the shadow of herself she becomes. Layers are added onto Rapunzel, where as with Mathena, layers are removed and we learn her secrets later in the book.
The writing is beautiful and very much like a classic fairy tale. The author paints us incredible scenes full of emotion and turmoil. The descriptions are also lovely as is the cover of the book that gives us a beautiful picture of Rapunzel.
Generally, it is pretty hard to surprise me, but the twists this story takes was definitely not what I was expecting, especially the really big “Whoa, really?” moment. Thank you Carolyn for actually surprising me. I loved seeing the realistic magic, plus a bit of unrealistic magic mixed in, with the plants and herbs being used.
All in all, I greatly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to people who enjoy fairy tale retellings and magical realism. The book is listed as young adult, but I would suggest it for the older teen and up side because of the sexual content. Definitely an author to add to my favorites!
Complex characters, beautiful writing, creative, older YA audiences.