The Fairest of Them All
By Carolyn Turgeon
Touchstone August 2013
Received via Netgalley
Rapunzel lives a quiet life in the woods with her adopted mother Mathena. While they help local women who come to them for magic assistance, they do not seek attention because magic is forbidden in their land. One day, Rapunzel's beauty and lovely song capture the attention of a young man. He is Josef, the prince of the kingdom and the two fall in love. But their bliss is only for one afternoon, for the prince is promised to marry someone else. Years pass and Rapunzel tries to forget the man she loves. But one day, opportunity presents itself and Rapunzel seizes the chance to marry Josef and become the queen....and stepmother to little Snow White.
Fairy tale retellings are always fascinating. I wasn't sure if Turgeon could pull off combining two of the most beloved stories. But in general, she succeeds. This book sometimes feels very YA - in the ways that the characters speak and in the ways that the characters relate to each other. Rapunzel and Josef, of course, fall in love at first sight (well, first sight with a bit of magical assistance). I was hesitant to keep reading, but then the story hits its stride and it was difficult to put the book down.
The Fairest of Them All really finds the essence of story - most people don't start out as bad guys. Everyone is the hero or heroine of their own story. It's only when their hearts are broken or their goals are in opposition to others that we meet our greatest villains. You really feel for Rapunzel as she is betrayed and feels she has no other option than to betray someone to achieve her own happiness. Her evolution from an innocent in love to the evil queen is believable and fascinating to witness.
It's hard to read about Snow White's evil stepmother without thinking of Regina from Once Upon A Time. They do have some similarities. Both start out from a place of goodness and hope, but find that circumstances and other people are standing in the way of their happiness. Turgeon captures Rapunzel's naivete and hope for a future, but she really excels at showing her pain and grief.
This is a great read for anyone who loves fairy tales, new versions of stories you know and love, or a book you can't stop reading. The story of Rapunzel's desperate quest for happiness will keep you turning pages long into the night. Through reading this book, we learn that happy endings are not as magical as they might sound but hope and love are always within reach.