Companion novel to Ella Enchanted
By: Gail Carson Levine
Date Finished: 12.24.12
Axa has the most beautiful voice in a country that values singing above all else — except for physical beauty, and that is where Axa is lacking. Severely. Abandoned as an infant, she is raised by a generous innkeeper and his family until chance takes her to the palace for the king’s wedding. In no time at all, Axa is swept up into the circles of court life, elevated to lady-in-waiting for the new queen, and, almost as abruptly, accused of being an enemy of the kingdom. But there’s a true threat to the kingdom and only Axa knows enough about it to prevent a revolution.
I think companion novels must be the hardest to write. In theory, they’re a good idea, especially if the original book feels complete, but so far I haven’t had much luck with them. References to the first book are forced, especially if the characters don’t physically appear, and it’s disappointing when the second main character isn’t as strong as the first. Axa is no Ella. She’s shy, painfully naive, and so obsessed with beauty that it drags down the plot (even though beauty is the plot). Ella was clever, witty, and proactive — traits I believe Axa could have possessed to some degree without compromising the character.
The book left me with a whole heap of questions, and not the good where-do-they-go-from-here questions. Consistently, the relationships were confusing and not believable. It was a decently good story except that it felt crammed into a fairy tale where it didn’t fit. I guessed from the title it was meant to be a “Snow White” adaptation, but for a long time thought I had ended up with a humanized version of “The Ugly Duckling” instead (which it essentially was). Then, without warning, it was “Snow White” and in the most obvious ways. Reaching this point, many of my why-did-that-even-happen questions were answered — that element/event exists in Fariest because it exists in the story of “Snow White”. Somehow, that’s not a satisfying answer.
Similarly, an agenda (ineffectively) permeated the story. There’s the lesson I’m supposed to pull from it — the pursuit of beauty is damaging — and the lesson I actually pulled which was… nothing. It just didn’t resonate. I could read this to a room of fifth grade girls and have a nice, stock discussion about beauty and perception, but I didn’t find the text itself compelling.
It’s a shame too, because I know Levine is an excellent writer. The way she worked the “Cinderella” tale was inspired and one of the better fairy tale adaptations I’ve encountered. Sadly, she lost it in the companion novel. Even so, it’s a quick read with a good arc and some interest in a first read. It’s fine for a rainy day, but where Levine’s Ella Enchanted is, well, enchanting, Fairest falls flat.
At the end of the day: Not for me