Review of THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL by CAROLYN TURGEON
(review based on an advance reading copy)
What a spectacular retelling! In my post about retold tales, I talk about how I dislike versions that aren’t retold enough. Something needs to feel fresh; I don’t want a long-winded account of a story I already know. Whether it’s setting, characters, writing, or plot twists a retelling should explore new ground, a different perspective. Turgeon meets these expectations with both multifaceted characters and compelling twists.
THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL obviously sounds like a twist on “Snow White,” but it’s actually a complex, layered retelling of both “Snow White” and “Rapunzel.” The prologue caught my attention right away with an implication that sure enough turns out to be the case. With one stone, Turgeon manages to give both Rapunzel more failings and Snow White’s evil stepmother more humanity.
In this version, we follow Rapunzel, a gorgeous but sheltered young woman living with her adopted mother, the witch Mathena. For reasons she keeps private, Mathena has kept Rapunzel cut off from men all her life. So when a dashing young prince comes to their home one day, Rapunzel can’t help but fall into infatuation on sight. (New meaning to the concept of “if he were the only man in the world.” In her world, he is.) The attraction’s mutual and the prince invites Rapunzel to a ball. Mathena forbids her attendance. Though time will tell whether or not she has more sinister motives, Mathena comes off as an overprotective mother more than a villain, a mother with understandable qualms about her naïve daughter becoming nothing more than the plaything of a spoiled prince. So far this may sound familiar if a little tweaked, but it’s around this point that the story starts spiraling into its own tale of doomed happily-ever-afters and understandable bitterness.
The novel does start out a little slow. Everything held my interest, but it’s how the story progresses and develops that earned all this praise. The slower material at the beginning builds the mood and background necessary to fully understand everything that comes later.
For the most part, characters feel wonderfully well-developed, but my only objection to this book is a few occasions when something or someone wasn’t fleshed out as I wanted. It didn’t happen much, but I had a few questions about someone’s motivation or true feelings or how something worked that Turgeon never answers. I repeat the word “few,” though, and emphasize that mostly the book impressed me with how vividly it brought these figures to life.
Turgeon has been on my to-read list for a while and now I intend to read everything else by her as soon as I can find time!