Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen, by Serena Valentino
About the book here.
My sister and I are huge fans of fantasy, fairy tales, and Disney. So when we walked into California Adventure’s Off the Page store and saw a novel about Snow White’s Evil Queen, we were excited.
To say that we were disappointed would be an understatement. My sister barely made it past the fifth page; I have this thing about finishing books I start, so I read it all.
The book is best-suited for readers in late elementary school or early junior high. There are plenty of excellent books for this age group—The Chronicles of Narnia and Little House books, for example. Fairest of All did not make the list.
To be fair, the writing is excellent—the best part of the book, in fact. Serena Valentino knows how to verbally paint a mental image, and her scene descriptions are a delightful experience.
It was the characters I had a problem with. This is one of those books where we already know exactly how the story will end—in this case, with a main character who is both evil and dead.
But this isn’t a natural deterrent. There are some really great villain stories out there. Take a classic for example: John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. His hero is Satan himself, yet we find ourselves wanting to root for him, despite his evil. This is because Milton’s Satan is relatable and multi-dementional—we get a realistic picture of a holistic character.
On the other hand, Valentino’s Queen is flat. She starts off purely good, and ends up purely evil. This is unrealistic—no one is wholly good or wholly bad.
The Queen struggles with her own insecurity. Her overwhelming desire for love leads to an obsession with perfect beauty. This is a very real struggle. The problem with the book is that it’s the only struggle. I needed more depth to make me believe the Queen as a character.
One of the problems here is that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is so simplistic. Snow White is Good, the Queen is Bad. We allow the movie some understandable leeway because it was the first animated movie ever. But Valentino tried to make her novel follow the movie a little too closely, which sacrifices the potential depth of the story.
Something that nagged at me the whole way through was that the Queen doesn’t have a real name. This can sometimes be a useful devise—The Road, for instance, uses no names. This creates a level of distance between the reader and characters, which is what the author intended. In Fairest of All, the narration tries to maintain intimacy with the Queen, but the intimacy is checked because of the formality of the Queen’s title.