Review: Fairest of All

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino came out a little over a decade again. It would eventually kick off a long series of official Disney villain fanfiction that, to the best of my knowledge, is still going to this day. I was aware of this book when it came out but was not quite motivated enough to pick up a copy for myself. It looked like an experiment by Disney to see if they could cash in on the success of Gregory Maguire's Wicked. Five years later, the book was made into a series, and Disney's Maleficent was released in theaters. Therefore, it would appear that the experiment was a success. I have read the first three books in this series and found that Fairest of All about the Evil Queen from Snow White is by far the best, most likely due to being the only one that was not written solely to continue chugging out more money for the mouse.

Fairest of All by Serena Valentino

Fairest of All covers the backstory of the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, who becomes bent on killing her stepdaughter to become the fairest of them all. It starts as a lovely rags to riches story about the daughter of a mirror maker who is chosen to be the new bride of the king. The Queen, who is never given a name (though some sources claim it to be Grimhilde), is pleased to gain a new husband, daughter, and lady-in-waiting named Verona, who she thinks of as a sister. Everything seemed to end up happily ever after for her until the king died in battle and his three cousins paid a visit to the castle. The "odd sisters" are three wicked witches who become the trigger for every villain's turning point in the book series. In this story, they are integrated organically as visiting family of the king, but future books place so much focus on them that they lose the twisted fairy tale retelling lore that this book incorporates so well.

The odd sisters bring the Queen a magic mirror that haunts her with the face of her dead father. Instead of the Queen being vain with jealousy like in the original fairy tale and Disney movie, Serena Valentino add some depth to her character by making her specifically want to hear her abusive father compliment her. When he tells her that Lady Verona and later Snow White are fairer than her, she goes on a jealous rampage to gain back her father's love. There are many factors in this book that make the Queen a sympathetic character, similar to that of Regina from Once Upon a Time. She grew up without a mother, was hated by her father, and eventually lost her husband. She had a close relationship with Verona and Snow White until she was corrupted by the mirror.

I thought this book did a good job of covering the events from the 1937 movie without feeling like a line-for-line rehash. Snow White and the Prince encounter each other a few times before the famous "I'm Wishing/One Song" scene and he requested permission from the Queen to marry Snow White prior to when she stayed with the dwarfs. That makes it less creepy when he gives her the wake up kiss at the end of the story. It also explains that the potions and incantations the Queen uses to make herself look old and poison the apple she gives to Snow White were gifts from the odd sisters. Though this is a bit of a cop out that removes any guilt from the Queen herself, it makes her character more forgivable. At the end of the book, we learn that the Queen intentionally chose to run from the dwarfs down the path that led to a dead end that would lead to her demise because she knew that she was beyond redemption.

The other two books I have read from this series are The Beast Within, which tells the backstory of the Beast, and Poor Unfortunate Soul, which is supposed to be about Ursula, but devotes far more pages to the original characters of the series. It seems that each book in this series progressively loses the heart that inspired Serena Valentino to tell the Queen's story in Fairest of All. By the time she wrote Poor Unfortunate Soul, it became clear that she was only continuing the series because Disney told her to and not because she wanted to. That's why even though Fairest of All is not a perfect book, I think it's a good read because it shows what the series could have been if it was written for the sake of exploring the nuanced backstories of lesser known characters instead of cheap cash grabs.

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