New Stories

Read Your Heart Out: Fairest of All

by Kaylee Stinebiser

Author: Serena Valentino

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy

Number of Pages: 272

What made the Evil Queen so damn evil in the first place?

I have what is perhaps an unhealthy obsession with Snow White and what is absolutely an unhealthy obsession with Barnes and Noble. At least, it’s unhealthy for my wallet. It’s only natural that, upon sliding my final short story draft under my professor’s office door, I sprinted to my car and hightailed it over to the building that smells like you spilled coffee on a new book — in a good way.

It was that day that I first discovered “Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen,” by Serena Valentino, published by Disney Press.

New is good, and good is new. And in a world where it’s becoming increasingly more important to remember that there are two sides to every story, a classic retelling can be its own kind of new.

Disney is on a roll with its modern live-action adaptations. I’ve been throwing my money at them since I was old enough to carry my own big-girl purse, and this summer was no different, of course. To be near me is to hear a Disney quote every ten seconds.

With Disney, it’s not just movies. It’s like a reverse umbrella; instead of keeping the rain away, Disney wants to pour into every crack and crevice. It’s brilliant.

I can honestly tell you that the day I bought “Fairest of All” was the quickest trip to Barnes and Noble that I have ever taken. Five minutes and a back-cover summary later, I was running to the checkout, ecstatic to get home and start it.

“Fairest of All” was everything I imagined it would be and more.

This book fed my childhood self. As Snow White’s self-proclaimed biggest fan, I’ve always wanted to know what her life was like before her iconic duet at the wishing well with the Prince. What was her life like when her father was alive? How did her father die?

And, of course, the elephant in the room: How does someone become as evil as the Evil Queen?

“Fairest of All” answers all of these questions and more, which makes this a must-read for more than just Disney fans; it’s a masterpiece for any one who loves a good plot twist — maybe even anyone who loves a good conspiracy theory.

Over the course of the book, this woman — we never do learn her real name — meets a king, falls in love, becomes the Queen (a surprisingly nice one), receives the Magic Mirror as a gift (but who’s inside?), is widowed (cue tragic evil-inducing life event), and very slowly (and then all at once) transforms into the Evil Queen.

Valentino drops a few Easter eggs in for her readers, too. The Evil Queen and Maleficent were best pals, if you can believe that. Oh — and the Queen has daddy issues and an obsession with cherry blossom trees.

Deep down, we all hope that evil as dark as the Evil Queen’s isn’t something that humans are born with. Something, we hope, has to cause someone to become a villain, some horrible life experience, some terrible wrongdoing, some tragic accident (see above). Surely, humans can’t be capable of pure evil just for the sake of being evil. “Fairest of All” provides that explanation in a way that brings life to a classic tale.

This book opens up an entirely new story using the same characters that we all grew up adoring (and fearing — you know, if your name has the word ‘evil’ in it). It begins when Snow White turns four, just when the Queen is marrying Snow White’s father, and takes us the whole way through Snow White’s poisoning. The stories flow together seamlessly.

Valentino has beautifully given the Evil Queen a personality and a history that explains the original tale rather than changes it. She gives this utterly cruel character some emotion, some compassion, and I would argue that seeing this character from this light makes her a more believable character. What kind of person doesn’t feel anything other than anger and hatred? No one. Everybody loves something. With “Fairest of All,” Valentino has given the Queen her something to love, and by doing so, she brings a perfect clarity.

This book made me fall in love with Snow White’s story all over again. Valentino’s beautiful attention to detail and careful attention to character development have made this story her own unique creation. The plot is full of unexpected twists. Just when you think you know what’s going to happen next, Valentino throws you a curveball, and you’re left reading as fast as you can with a racing heart.

Characters are often categorized in three ways: villain, victim, or hero. “Fairest of All” will show readers that these aren’t one-size-fits-all options.

You get to see two sides of the story, but most of all, you get to see the side of the story that Snow White had no idea was even happening in the first place.

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