Review: Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

Title: Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen
Author: Serena Valentino
Published by Disney Press, Aug 18, 2009
Hardcover, 250 pages

I was really looking forward to reading this book, because Snow White is my absolute favorite fairy tale. I love reading / watching anything and everything about Snow White, including the Disney version, which is one of my favorite movies ever.

I was, however, a little bit disappointed with this book. It was featured on a Fairy Tale Retellings shelf at Barnes & Noble in the Young Adult section (where I also picked up Cinder). However, this book is most certainly not the YA I was expecting.

I knew before I bought it that it was published by Disney, since the cover art featured Disney’s Evil Queen. What I didn’t know was just how closely it would stick with the characters that had already been established in the movie.

This book is not the story of Snow White, but rather of the Queen. It is revealed early on that the Queen has incredibly low self esteem, thanks to her father, a mirror maker, who was always very mean to the Queen as a child—he tells her constantly how hideous she is and that she’ll never be good enough for anyone to marry. However, the King disagrees.

He thinks the Queen is the most beautiful woman in the land. He marries her, and she becomes Snow White’s stepmother. The Queen wants to be a great mother to Snow, something that the Queen never had since her mother passed away in childbirth and her father was awful. She loves Snow dearly. The King dies in battle, just a few short months after their wedding.

The King’s cousins, three sisters, send the Queen a mirror, which is later revealed to be enchanted—it holds the soul of her father. The Queen forces her father to tell her who is “the fairest in the land” every morning. It causes her to turn extremely vain and seclude herself from everyone else. And the story that we all know unfolds from there.

I had several problems with this book. I loved learning about the Queen’s background, but most of the time the writing felt extremely forced. It might have been fine for a children’s book, but for a book that was supposed to be YA, it just didn’t work. The author constantly gives descriptions of the aesthetics—lavish clothes, beautiful decorations—but most of the time they have nothing to do with the story, and it causes the plot to move very slowly. It almost seems like nothing is happening at times because of this. Valentino also uses some big words, which seem out of place while reading. They felt forced, like Disney was trying to give me a vocabulary lesson while I was reading.

I also hated that the Queen and King were never given real names. The Queen was still referred to as the Queen even before she married the King. It just made it very stiff and formal all the time. Surely the author could’ve come up with names for them? Perhaps this was just a Disney thing—I can understand them not wanting to “corrupt” the original movie, but it was kind of distracting.

I do think that Valentino did a good job with the dialogue, though. She captured the essence of the Disney versions of the characters perfectly.

Overall, Fairest of All was a decent read. I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but I didn’t hate it either. It was a fast, fun read, even if I did have some problems with it.

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