width="134" height="200" border="1" align="right">Bear with me if this ends up being a somewhat rambling review. I both read and listened to Fairest by Gail Carson Levine over the course of a weekend car trip.
Fairest is a tween fantasy inspired by Snow White but that connection only becomes obvious in the final third of the story. Aza is a foundling, raised by innkeepers of the Feather Bed. In the kingdom of Ayortha, beauty in voice and body are prized above all else. While Aza can sing better than anyone she knows, she is too tall, too wide, too plain of face and too clumsy. As she hones her singing skills, she learns how to throw her voice, or as she calls it, illuse.
Aza's self-esteem therefore isn't great. It gets put the ultimate test, though, when circumstances beyond her control take her to castle for a royal wedding. When the king is injured, leaving his new queen in charge, Aza finds her stay extended for the foreseeable future.
Queen Ivi, the young commoner with unusual beauty but a terrible singing voice, stands in for the wicked stepmother queen. Aza with her hair too black, her skin to pale and her lips too red, stands in for Snow White. Ivi's, though, isn't driven by an insane desire to be the "fairest one of all" even if that's what's expected of her. Her actions are driven more by her immaturity and homesickness, making her both a more interesting and more dangerous character.
As Ayortha prizes singing, there's frequent mention of singing, including characters randomly breaking out in song mid sentence when the mood strikes. In the print form, these moments of song are rendered as short lines of poetry — the longest one taking maybe three quarters of a page. In the Full Cast Audio version, these songs can add upwards of five minutes to a page that would otherwise take a minute or two to read. As I was reading it on my own at night and listening to it in the car, these inflated areas were more noticeable than they would otherwise be.