Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Review: Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

Fairest of All
By: Serena Valentino
Publisher: Disney Press
ASIN: B0078X0UV6


When the Evil Queen first appeared on movie theater screens in 1937, Walt Disney set the gold standard for all screen versions of fairy tale villains to come. She was gorgeous, menacing, and altogether overwhelming -- a scene-stealing villain, the embodiment of unrepentant evil. Or was she? As it is no secret that I adore fairy tales and film and novel re-tellings -- or re-imaginings -- of these classic tales of good versus evil, it was a foregone conclusion that when I stumbled upon Fairest of All I'd one day read it.

Here, Serena Valentino crafts a backstory to the Evil Queen of legend, positing a history that, were different choices made, could have allowed for a very different -- and altogether more positive -- outcome of the Queen's relationship with her stepdaughter Snow White. Much like Elphaba's story in Wicked, the television show Once Upon a Time, or (presumably) the upcoming film Maleficent, this novel attempts to reassess the Queen in light of her upbringing, if not exactly excusing or attempting to justify her behavior outright, but rather to offer a plausible reason as to why the Queen would go to such drastic measures to remove Snow from her life.

The young Queen is one eager for a place to belong, desperately in love with her husband and eager to be a mother to her new daughter. But she's terribly insecure, crippled her father's emotional abuse and eager, desperate for the validation being in a family can provide. However, when that haven is threatened, the door is opened for this insecure Queen to seek affirmation elsewhere -- even if its at the hands of a mirror whose power stems from her greatest oppressor.

I love the ambition behind this novel, and the fairly plausible manner in which Valentino attempts to flesh out the canon of the film. It is a bit simplistic in its rendering, however, as she introduces great ideas only to leave them less than fully developed, perhaps giving the target audience less credit than they deserve. Valentino knows her source material, and peppers her story with film and other Disney canonical (including my favorite, a Sleeping Beauty shout-out!). Her prose, while occasionally reminscent of Grimm or Perrault, can be somewhat simplistic and stilted, filled with awkward descriptions and "flourishes," but on the whole this is a pleasing addition to Disney and fairy tale lore. I'd love to see Valentino explore the backstory of other famous villains, like Ursula, or perhaps Cinderella's enigmatic nemesis -- a veritable treasure trove of opportunities are waiting in the wings, and Valentino's passion and imaginative flair for this type of fiction holds promise.

About the book:

For anyone who's seen Walt Disney's Snow White, you'll know that the Wicked Queen is one evil woman! After all, it's not everyone who wants to cut out their teenage step-daughter's heart and have it delivered back in a locked keepsake box. (And even if this sort of thing is a common urge, we don't know many people who have acted upon it.)

Now, for the first time, we'll examine the life of the Wicked Queen and find out just what it is that makes her so nasty. Here's a hint: the creepy-looking man in the magic mirror is not just some random spooky visage-and he just might have something to do with the Queen's wicked ways!

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