Fairy tales have been always been popular with old and young, but recently they have been enjoying a pop culture resurgence, with television programs like Once Upon A Time and films like Snow White and the Huntsman, Mirror, Mirror, and Tangled. Fairy tales are designed to be spun and embellished — there are no definitive versions. At least that is the concept behind The Fairest of Them All, the latest book by Carolyn Turgeon. Turgeon’s dark romantic fantasy poses the intriguing question — what if Snow White’s evil stepmother turned out to be another familiar fairytale heroine, like Rapunzel?
Clearly a tale like Snow White’s or Rapunzel’s is still ripe for retelling, and Turgeon is comfortable in the world of fairy tales, with two previous novels re-imagining favorite heroines Cinderella and the Little Mermaid, in Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story (2009), and Mermaid (2011). In The Fairest of Them All she writes from Rapunzel’s point of view. Rapunzel still lives in a tower in the middle of an enchanted forest, and she has that long, luxurious hair, but she is also a 17 year-old witch-in-training who has not much knowledge of the outside world — especially the ways of men.
Rapunzel lives with her guardian, the witch Mathena, who seems to be a more sympathetic creature than the old woman who kidnapped the young Rapunzel from her radish-eating mother in previous versions of the tale. Part feminist, part cautionary tale, The Fairest of Them All examines how Rapunzel’s world changes radically when she catches the ear and eye of the handsome prince Josef. But what happens when Rapunzel, with the help of her beauty and more than a little magic, is able to realize her dreams of winning Josef’s love and becoming his queen? And it’s a package deal, as widower Josef has a beautiful young daughter, named Snow White. Complicating matters, and Rapunzel’s world view, is Mathena’s wedding gift — a magic mirror.
Turgeon manages to makes all of her heroines’ stories engaging, even when they are doing and thinking things they oughtn’t. Although the author is clearly familiar with the Brothers Grimm and Disney, The Fairest of Them All is a distinctly adult spin on some classic stories. The lush prose pulls the reader in, as the story takes Rapunzel and then Snow White for some unexpected twists and turns that will still surprise the most avid fan of folklore. Turgeon proves that there are still exciting stories to tell and retell, featuring beloved fictional characters.