Review: The Fairest of Them All by Carolyn Turgeon

Sunday, August 11, 2013
Title: The Fairest of Them All
Author: Carolyn Turgeon
Genre: fairytales, retellings
Series: N/A
Pages: 290 (ARC edition)
Published: August 6 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

Living in an enchanted forest, Rapunzel spends her days tending a mystical garden with her adoptive mother, Mathena. A witch, Mathena was banished from court because of her magic powers, though the women from the kingdom still seek her advice and herbal remedies. She waits, biding her time to exact revenge against those who betrayed her.

One day Rapunzel’s beautiful voice and long golden locks captivate a young prince hunting in the forest nearby. Overcome, he climbs her hair up to her chamber and they fall into each other’s arms. But their afternoon of passion is fleeting, and the prince must return to his kingdom, as he is betrothed to another.

Now king, he marries his intended to bring peace to his kingdom. They have a stunning daughter named Snow White. Yet the king is haunted by his memories of Rapunzel, and after the mysterious death of his wife, realizes he is free to marry the woman he never stopped longing for. In hopes of also replacing the mother of his beloved daughter, the king makes Rapunzel his queen.

The Fairest of Them All is a fairytale retelling that combines two well-known and often-told stories - that of Rapunzel and that of Snow White - and asks, "what if Rapunzel was Snow White's Evil Stepmother?"  It's an intriguing idea and one that lends originality to such famous stories, but one that sadly lacks subtlety and pathos. Carolyn Turgeon does an able job of meddling the two separate stories into one cohesive plot, but her characters lack agency and can come off as rather bland.

The premise is obviously one of the strongest aspects to the story of The Fairest of Them All. We've all seen the Disney and/or Pixar movies, we've read the Grimm versions, so a new idea on both Rapunzel and Snow White (don't even mention that Kristen Stewart failure) feels like a breath of fresh air for retellings. The way that Turgeon introduces both stories, both apart and together, feels organic. It's not hard to believe that these two women came to be directly involved with each other's lives. The story is told in pretty straightforward and nondescript prose, but the author isn't afraid to whip out some pretty big gamechangers before it's all said and done.

My main problem lies with characterization. Rapunzel was the best character -- she's desperately flawed, but she's more interesting and compelling for it. Both Josef, her King, and Snow White, his daughter by his first Queen, come off as blandly beautiful. The King is shown to be somewhat imperfect - his philandering, lack of attention for Rapunzel once he has her - but he has such little presence it makes almost no difference. Snow White is where I really struggled. She's too perfect here, as she is in almost every representation you find of her tale. I had hoped that The Fairest of Them All would do for her what it did to her counterpart - Rapunzel is unlike any other version before. But this Snow White is ripped right from Disney: she's beautiful and perfect and thus inspires jealousy easily. I was disappointed with her one-note personality, and never really grew to care about her the way I did for her "evil" Stepmother. (Yes, Rapunzel does horrible things. But she grows and learns and evolves before/after.)

Despite Snow White's perfection, Turgeon isn't afraid to go to dark places with her story. It's more along the lines of the Brothers Grimm than old Walt. Murder, enviousness, jealousy, betrayal, revenge, rape and more are all part and parcel to the plot. The author deviates from the norm several times  - the apple appears but functions in a new way, the seven dwarfs are a group of bandits, Rapunzel's hair has powers besides being able to bear weight - and it works for the story. The infusions of originality keep these old stories feeling fresh and unique, rather than a retread of what has been done before. 

The Fairest of Them All is an involving, interesting read. It has a few faults with characters and could do with a bit more polish, but overall, makes for an entertaining new take on some of the world's most popular fairytales. It's dark, it's full of surprises that will keep readers guessing. All in all, this was a promising introduction to this author and I would definitely read more from her.


  1. This sounds interesting. I'm curious about it, but I don't like perfect characters. Great review, Jessie!

    1. It keeps your attention, but outside of Rapunzel the characters definitely need work.

  2. Touchstone sends me all sorts of requests for weird non-fiction and murder mysteries, so why couldn't they ask me if I wanted this one. *huffs*

    1. Ahaha, pubs are so weird! And for this, they denied me on NG but approved me on EW. Whatevs. At least I got to read it, right?

      (But seriously, you're not really missing much.)

  3. Huh. Well that's not really what I expected but it still sounds intriguing. Rapunzel is Snow White's step mother??? Hmm...must check this one out! Magical hair...reminds me of Tangled! Lol. Great review!

    1. Yeah that was an interesting idea for the author. I really liked it and I would read more fairytale combinations were she to write them.

      AND YES THE HAIR WITH POWERS! It also reminded me of Tangled, though her hair can't heal people. Still, the similarity is there.

  4. I object to your statement. I, er, haven't read all the Grimm versions or seen the Disney or Pixar versions either. I am a fail at fairy-tale retellings, though they do seem quite prominent nowadays (the success of the Lunar Chronicles among many others, I'm sure, has contributed to that).

    Lol. The KStew version. I can't believe I went to see that one at midnight. I blame that on the fact that Charlize Theron was in the movie, and she is awesome no matter what.

    It's a shame that the characterization of Snow White wasn't more developed. I didn't know that she's generally depicted as being too perfect - I always get her mixed up with Sleeping Beauty. Apple. Thimble. Pffft.

    You've got me really interested in Rapunzel now and what evil things she does before she evolves. And what sort of powers her hair has. Major props for the infusions of originality and the actual concept. I too have never heard of mixing fairy-tales in this way, and while it sounds like the book is far from flawless, you've still got me quite intrigued.

    Side note: I really, really love that cover o.O.

    1. These retellings do seem more popular since the Lunar Chronicles came out. As a fan of both that series and fairytales, I approve of this trend.

      As for the KStew movie, I said it before and I will say it again. The only thing good about it were the three C's: Charlize, Chris Hemsworth's arms, and the CGI. I will watch Charlize in anything. She is pretty much flawless.

      I am not afraid to admit that more than half the reason I wanted to read this was due to that awesome cover. Superficial and proud!


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