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4.4 272
by Gail Carson Levine

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Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to be pretty . . .

Aza's singing is the fairest in all the land, and the most unusual. She can "throw" her voice so it seems to come from anywhere. But singing is only one of the two qualities prized in the Kingdom of Ayortha. Aza doesn't possess the other: beauty. Not even close. She's hidden in the shadows in


Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to be pretty . . .

Aza's singing is the fairest in all the land, and the most unusual. She can "throw" her voice so it seems to come from anywhere. But singing is only one of the two qualities prized in the Kingdom of Ayortha. Aza doesn't possess the other: beauty. Not even close. She's hidden in the shadows in her parents' inn, but when she becomes lady-in-waiting to the new queen, she has to step into the light—especially when the queen demands a dangerous favor. A magic mirror, a charming prince, a jealous queen, palace intrigue, and an injured king twine into a maze that Aza must penetrate to save herself and her beloved kingdom.

Editorial Reviews

ALA Booklist
“[Readers will] sink into the fairy-tale romance, the remarkable characters, and the wild, magical adventures.”
“Inventive and original”
Publishers Weekly

Levine's enchanting, intelligent fairy tale, set in a kingdom devoted to singing, lends itself well to full-cast production; this one features 32 voices. Composer Todd Hobin has set Levine's lyrics to music; Naughton does a terrific job as maid Aza, the narrator, a demanding role that requires near-operatic talents. Homely Aza, abandoned at birth, not only sings like a lark, she can throw her voice and mimic others, a skill she calls illusing. In a chance meeting, the treacherous new queen, whose abrasive voice has a Valley Girlesque quality, discovers Aza's talent and blackmails the girl into secretly providing her voice for all of the queen's public singing. Additional background music augments the many perilous predicaments Aza finds herself in, as well as providing a backdrop to the fairy-tale romance that develops between her and Prince Ijori. This is a rare case: the book itself is superb, but the audio production surpasses it. Ages 10-up. (Reviews, July 24, 2006.)(Dec.)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
Children's Literature
Aza, which means lark in Ayorthaian, wonders about her true parentage. She wants a reason to explain why she is so big and ugly and has such an amazing song voice. Her voice counts for much in a land where everyone sings. She is happy enough in her inn-home where here mother, father, and sister Areida adore her, and the guests do not annoy her all that much. She can usually satisfy them. She pleases herself with the voice trick of throwing her voice or the imitated voices of others, wherever she wants. When Aza is taken to court by the duchess whose dame is sick, she does not know she is walking into a hot-bed of conflict. Within days, she views a royal wedding, falls in love with Prince Ijori, sees King Oscaro suffer a blow that puts him in a coma-like state, and is pleased then horrified to become the waiting-woman of the new, foreign, manipulative, and non-singing Queen Ivi. Levine pulls on fairy-tale traditions of magic mirrors and other Snow White icons, but creates a wholly new tale. Once again, her once-upon-a-time voice takes us into lands frequented by a prophesizing gnome, frightening ogres, and the political tensions found in all courts. All of these become so real, you feel Levine has traveled them. Not since Ella Enchanted has Levine written such a compelling fantasy world, nor invented such a gutsy, unusual heroine. 2006, HarperCollins, Ages 8 to 12.
—Susie Wilde
Children's Literature - Elizabeth Fronk
In Ayorthaia, Aza was born singing with a beautiful voice, but is ugly in her appearance. She lives with her adoptive parents in an inn. When she turns 14, she learns that she can also throw her voice, a skill that she calls "illusing." A duchess who visits the inn plans to attend the king's wedding to a foreigner, and she invites Aza to attend as her maid. At the castle, the beautiful Queen Ivy learns of Aza's skills at illusing and singing--things that the queen lacks. She invites Aza to be her lady-in-waiting. When the king becomes injured, life for Aza takes a more sinister turn as Queen Ivy orders Aza to sing for her and "speak" for her. Much to Aza's surprise, she befriends the prince who sees in her more beauty than she does. As Aza is serving the queen, she stumbles upon a mirror that seems to transform her appearance. The mirror contains the creature, Skulni, who commands what the mirror can do. The creature casts a spell over Aza to make her beautiful. As the kingdom becomes more and more fractured, Aza finds herself and her family at risk. Her new found beauty does not give her the things she thinks it will; She must use her wits and rely on her friends, the gnomes. She must also learn where true beauty lies; something that Aza struggles to learn. After Levine's brilliant Ella Enchanted with its wonderful blend of humor and creativity, this story seems a bit confusing and has a darker mood. One needs to be very patient with this novel and its take on the Snow White fairy tale. If one is willing to keep reading, middle school and young adult girls would enjoy this novel.
VOYA - Karen Jensen
Once again the good fairy Lucinda has given a highly inappropriate gift, this time in the form of a mirror. As Ella Enchanted (HarperCollins, 1997/VOYA August 1997) is a humorous retelling of Cinderella, this novel is an offbeat retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac with a hint of Snow White (who is the fairest of them all?). In the kingdom of Ayortha, the people sing songs, and no one has a more beautiful voice than Aza. Aza also has the extraordinary ability to "throw" her voice, called illusing, to make it seem to come from places other than from Aza. This talent finds her in a deceitful arrangement with the new queen, an outsider who does not have the ability to sing in a kingdom that prizes singing. In the companionship of the queen, Aza will encounter a mirror that will beguile and bewitch her, and she will fall in love with the Prince. Throughout the story, Aza wrestles with her appearance and the idea that there can be beauty within. The book also tackles common teen issues such as standing up for what one believes to be right, deceit, and how to overcome mistakes to regain people's trust. Many readers will be drawn to the book because of the popularity of Ella Enchanted, but the kingdom of Ayortha and the "sings" can be difficult to get into, providing a more challenging read for younger teen audiences. Aza is a complex character with flaws, but teens will relate to her struggles with appearance and self-acceptance and revel in her first love. This story is more in the spirit of Donna Jo Napoli's fairytale retellings, with greater depth and less humor than its predecessor.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2006: Over 300 pages of rather challenging fantasy, with motifs we all recognize: a mirror that reflects beauty and talks; gnomes who live in caves; a king; a prince; a girl who doesn't know who her real parents are; a shallow but beautiful queen. Levine adds many original ideas, especially that of the importance of singing. The main character is NOT the fairest. She is Aza, with intelligence, a kind heart and a beautiful voice, but she looks awkwardly different from everyone else. When the king falls ill, his young wife grabs as much power as she can grab, threatening to turn a benevolent kingdom into a tyranny. She pulls Aza in with her, holding over Aza the well being of the parents who lovingly raised Aza as their own. Throughout is the question of who exactly Aza's true parents are; she looks different from everyone else, and she has gifts no one else has. For instance, she knows how to throw her voice like a ventriloquist would, and when the evil queen learns of this talent, she forces Aza to make it seem that the queen has a lovely voice, when in fact it is Aza's voice projected from the queen's mouth. The choirmaster is suspicious and arranges for the two to sing a duet, which of course would expose the fraud since it is only Aza who can sing. Inventive and original; readers who like Ella Enchanted will be primed to try this fairy tale as well. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-In a world in which elegance, beauty, and singing ability are revered, Aza is bulky, awkward, and homely. Her saving grace is that she can sing and has a gift of voice manipulation that she calls "illusing." Through a chance meeting at her family's inn, a duchess invites Aza to act as her companion and accompany her to the palace to attend the king's wedding. When the beautiful new queen discovers Aza's gift for throwing her voice and for mimicry, she sees a way of protecting her reputation and disguising her own lack of talent. Pressured by the woman's threats upon her family, Aza deceives the court into believing that Ivi is a gifted singer. When the ruse is discovered, Aza is forced to flee the castle in order to save her life. Through her adventures, she discovers her own strength of character, learns about her true heritage, and decides that her physical appearance is not worthy of the stress and worry she has wasted on it. The plot is fast-paced, and Aza's growth and maturity are well crafted and believable. Readers will enjoy the fairy-tale setting while identifying with the real-life problems of living in an appearance-obsessed society. A distinguished addition to any collection.-Melissa Christy Buron, Epps Island Elementary, Houston, TX Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A musical maid with a love for gnomes discovers there's more to life than being pretty. Abandoned at the Featherbed Inn in the kingdom of Ayortha, Aza was raised lovingly by the innkeeper and his wife. In Ayortha beauty and singing are prized above everything. Aza's voice is the "finest," but her "htun" hair and large physique mark her as ugly. She longs to be pretty. Fate takes Aza to Ontio Castle, where her voice charms everyone including Prince Ijori. Aza quickly becomes embroiled in castle intrigue when the king is injured and his scheming bride, Ivi, blackmails Aza into "illusing" her voice to make it seem that Ivi can sing. With Ayortha verging on rebellion, Aza realizes Ivi's magical mirror will transform her into the fairest of all, but at a terrible price. Fans of Ella Enchanted (1997) will find Aza a kind-hearted, spirited heroine who uses her wit and voice to rescue the kingdom and who learns the hard way that beauty isn't everything. A song-filled, fast-paced fairy tale. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
5.12(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

I was born singing. Most babies cry. I sang an aria.

Or so I believe. I have no one to tell me the truth of it. I was abandoned when I was a month old, left at the Featherbed Inn in the Ayorthaian village of Amonta. It was January 12th of the year of Thunder Songs.

The wench who brought me to the inn paid for our chamber in advance and smuggled me in unseen. The next morning she smuggled herself out, leaving me behind.

I know what happened next. Father and Mother—the innkeeper and his wife—have retold the tale on the anniversary of my arrival since I grew old enough to understand the words.

"You were left in the Lark chamber," Mother would say. "It was the right room for you, my songbird."

"It was a chill morning," Father would chime in. "Soon you were howling." His shoulders would shake with laughter. "I thought you were Imilli."

We would all smile—my younger sister Areida, my two older brothers, Mother, and I. Imilli was our cat—kitten then.

Mother would burst in. "I knew straight off you were a babe. I knew you were a singer, too." She'd sing, "It was all in your lovely howl."

We'd laugh at that.

She'd shake her head. "No. Truly. It was lovely."

My favorite part would come next. Mother would throw back her head and imitate my howl, a high pure note.

Ayortha is a kingdom of singers. In our family and in Amonta, my voice is the finest. Mother often said that if I tried, I could sing the sun down from the sky.

"I opened the chamber door," Father would say, continuing the tale, "and there youwere."

I was in the center of the bed, crying and kicking the air.

"I picked you up," Mother would say, "and you gurgled such a musical gurgle."

My brother Ollo would break in with his favorite part. "Your bottom was wet."

Areida would giggle.

Father and Mother would never mention that the blanket I had arrived in was velvet, edged with gold thread.

The story would go on. Mother carried me into the Sparrow room, where my brothers slept. Father headed for the attic to find Ollo's old cradle. When he came down, I was lying on Ollo's small bed while Ollo, who was two years old then, gently poked my cheek.

No one has told me what happened next, but I know. I can imagine the sight I was. Yarry, who was five, would have spoken his mind, as he does to this day. He would have said, in a tone of wonder, "She's so ugly."

Then—they have told me this—he said, "Can we keep her, Father?"

Father and Mother did, and named me Aza, which means lark in Ayorthaian. They treated me no differently from their own children, and taught me to read music and songs from our treasured leather songbook, kept on its own high table in the entry parlor.

I was an unsightly child. My skin was the weak blue-white of skimmed milk, which wouldn't have been so bad if my hair had been blond and my lips pale pink. But my lips were as red as a dragon's tongue and my hair as black as an old frying pan.

Mother always denied that I was ugly. She said that looking different wasn't the same as looking amiss, and she called me her one-of-a-kind girl. Still, she promised I'd grow prettier as I grew older. I remember asking her a dozen times a day if I was prettier yet. She would stop whatever she was doing—cleaning a guest's chamber or bathing Areida—and consider me. Then she'd sing, "I think so."

But soon after, one of the inn's guests would stare, and I'd know the transformation hadn't really taken place.

If anything, I became uglier. I grew large boned and awkward. My chubby cheeks were fine for a babe, but not for an older child. I resembled a snow maid, with a big sphere of a face and round button eyes.

I ached to be pretty. I wished my fairy godmother would come and make me so. Mother said we all have fairy godmothers, but they rarely reveal themselves. I wished I could see mine. I was sure fairies were supremely beautiful and glorious in every way.

Mother said fairy godmothers only watch from afar and sympathize. I didn't see the good of a hand-wringing fairy godmother. I needed one who'd fly in and help.

With no hope for fairy intervention, I wished for a magic spell to make me pretty. At night I'd sing nonsense words to myself after Areida had fallen asleep. I thought I might stumble on the right combination of syllables and notes, but I never did.

I attempted to make myself more presentable by pinning my hair up this way or that, or by tying a ribbon around my neck. Once, I sneaked into Father's workshop and smeared wood stain on my face and arms.

The results were streaky brown skin and a rash that lasted a month.

The inn's guests were sometimes friendly, but more often they were rude. As bad as the ones who stared were the ones who looked away in embarrassment. Some guests didn't want me to serve their food, and some didn't want me to clean their rooms.

We Ayorthaians are sensitive to beauty, more sensitive than the subjects in other kingdoms, I think. We love a fine voice especially, but we also admire a rosy sunset, a sweet scent, a fetching face. And when we're not pleased, we're displeased.

I developed the habit of holding my hand in front of my face when guests arrived, a foolish practice, because it raised curiosity and concealed little.

Mother and Father mostly gave me chores that kept me out of sight, helping the laundress or washing dishes. They did so to protect me. But it was common sense, too. I was bad for business.

Fairest. Copyright © by Gail Levine. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Gail Carson Levine's first book for children, Ella Enchanted, was a Newbery Honor Book. Levine's other books include Ever, a New York Times bestseller; Fairest, a Best Book of the Year for Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal, and a New York Times bestseller; Dave at Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults; The Wish; The Two Princesses of Bamarre; A Tale of Two Castles; and the six Princess Tales books. She is also the author of the nonfiction books Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly and Writer to Writer: From Think to Ink, as well as the picture books Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsy Red Hoodie. Gail Carson Levine and her husband, David, live in a two-centuries-old farmhouse in the Hudson Valley of New York State.

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Fairest 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 272 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
In a land where beauty means everything, Aza finds herself lacking in every way possible. Her only redeeming quality is the beauty in her voice. If only her singing reflected what others saw when they looked upon her face. She spends most of her time trying to hide her face from the staring eyes of guests at her parent's inn. Singing is the only beauty Aza finds in herself, and she sings often while she is working.

She discovers that she can "throw" her voice and make it appear as though it came from another place in the room! She tries to teach her family her new trick but no one else is successful.

A Duchess passing through the inn on her way to the King's wedding invites Aza to come along as her maid. While at the castle, the new Queen discovers Aza's talent in "throwing" her voice and insists that Aza stay and become a lady in waiting, so that the Queen can use Aza's voice as her own.

When the King is injured, the young Queen is hungry for power and the kingdom is soon threatened to fall apart, as well as Aza along with it.

I have heard great things about Levine as a writer, so when I had a chance to read FAIREST I jumped at it! And I have to say that I wasn't disappointed! I loved the fairy tale setting and the storytelling quality of Levine's writing.

The plot was fast-paced and Aza's growth within the novel is believable. Aza isn't your typical heroine and that made the story so much more enjoyable. I loved that the book tackled the issue of beauty, which is something that I know I struggle with, as well. I know that I'm looking forward to reading more of Ms. Levine's works in the future!
Victoria-Star More than 1 year ago
In oung Aza's crazy world of obsessed beauty (sound famailair?) she stands out. Not only because she has the voice of an angel, the fairest in all the land but becuase...well...to put it bluntly, she's just not that pretty. In this fairy-tale ride of love, hope, and justice, Gail Carson Levine weaves one magic tale. As a fan of her other novels, I found this one no different. It's fun, romantic, fantastical, and a breath of fresh air if you're searching for a feel-good but NOT "fluffy" book. It's definately a girly book, but not like Sleepless in Seattle is a chick flick. Think girly as in...the movie Pride and Prejudice. That has some deeper stuff in it, right? Yes, and so does this book. How Aza's inner beauty shines to make her beautiful with those who truly love her, and how the pretty faced girl really ISNT that pretty at all...settles for a great lesson without being preachy. And that lesson is quite the perfect one for our generation of air brushed models and obsessive Coach carrying young girls. And just like me, at the end, you'll see how real beauty is indeed, the fairest of them all. So, cons? Not too many here. Parents can rejoice- there's no language to speak of, little violence or thematic material, and no heavy romance, only some kisses. Trust me when i say it does NOT get any cleaner than this. Which is just another reason i love Mrs. Levine, she keeps it thrilling and VERY romantic, while keeping things CLEAN. that, dear reader, is something you just don't see too often. So set back, relax, and curl up with a mad good love story with some actual depth. Like me, you'll gobble up this fantasy quickly..and you'll be glad you did. Happy Reading! ~Thanks for reading my review! please check out my page, and take a look at my other reviews! God bless!~
I_read_books More than 1 year ago
If I could I would give Fairest ten stars. I absolutely loved this book! It is the best I have read in a while. The characters are interesting and detailed, the setting is perfect, and the story is like no other. If you read this book you will be amazed how it draws you in. An absolutely unforgettable experience.
TreesinBrooklyn More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love this book! I have read it several times and it never gets boring. I recommend it to anyone who can read!
Ameelove More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I thought the characters were very realistic and you could definitely relate to most of them. I was hooked from the beginning. I loved how Ella Enchanted was a twist on Cinderella and Fairest was a twist on Snow White. It was very very good. Gail Carson Levine is a great writer. I recommend this to anyone who loves Fairy Tales.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I completley fell in love with this book. I loved how the twist to the book gave it a different side of what to truley fall in love with. In all romance fairytales the prince falls in love with the maiden for sight and intrest but in this book the prince likes her for the inside and her voice. It means a lot to girls and show how everything is balanced in a females body to where both side come t one in love.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i think the love connection between the Prince and Aza could have been better. She forgave him so willingly and he never really completely trusted her so i didn't think they were as great as a couple as Ella and her Prince. I also believe the Queen should have been punished more than she was.the book had a great plot but i think it could have been improved. This was not one of my favs written by Gail carson levine but it was acceptable. I really loved how the ending left me sighing ='
KaykayKD More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be really slow. I wanted to see more of a snow white tail like it was suppose to be, but you got to meet the nombs like more towards the end of the book. It really depends on what you like because my sister loves this book she has read it three times, and i'm sure she will read it more in the future as well. It had a beautiful meaning though great theme and i would suggest this book to anyone who is down and need some cheering up to do.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have had this book for a while but finally got a chance to read it. It is different from most fairy tales in which the lead character despite the title is anything but the fairest in the land. In Aza's home country singing is life. Everyone sings and all have beautiful voices Aza's included. When she meets a hard to please guest and wins their affection she gets to take a journey to the castle to see the royal wedding! Meeting the king's nephew the Prince and his dog being the highlight of the evening. Later she finds herself in the queen's favor and starts what she thinks will be an amazing journey. In all I liked how different it was and the singing throughout the book was a fun twist. I just wish that all the songs would have flowed better. I understand singing is their life but it seemed like a musical where the burst into song just because they can.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this a little while ago, but I never wrote a review. This book was wonderful.. It was a bit slow but once the story started going I couldn't stop turning pages. I'd highly recommend this if you enjoy fantasy novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is very well written and keeps you inside of it. I would definetely reccomend this amazing book to anyone.
book4children More than 1 year ago
I listened to the full cast audio book. I will be honest in saying that I spaced out during lots of the singing. The singers were very dramatic and sometimes difficult to understand. Besides that, I absolutely loved the book! I loved the way prince Igori fell in love with Asa for the right reasons and in spite of her appearance. I also liked the way Asa didn't suddenly love herself completely once Igori confessed his feelings. She knew it would take some time for her to accept herself, but she was willing to try, and that seemed like a realistic response from her. This is my second Gail Carson Levine book that I've listened to and I really like her work. Her books are clean and have a good message tucked inside. They are especially good for young girls, ages 9 and up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ella enchanted ,the grim sisters, ivy's dragon, and once upon a marigold. These are my four favorite books in the fantasy aventure genre.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is like Snow White -in the same way Ella Enchanted was like Cinderella. Aza is a very relatable character. She isn't pretty so this is the book for whoever feels 'ugly'. The story kind of ties in to Ella Enchanted with some of the same characters. I personally think that in this book sing WAY too much but thats just me. It's a good book and you can relate to the characters which is nice because so many books have unrelateable characters. It also has extremely vain characters that kinda seem fake. Overall its a pretty good book and if you liked Ella Enchanted you should like this too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fairest is a great book! I highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is definetely a prize winner. I won't tell you what it's about because has already done that for me, but it just pulls you in and won't let you put it down. It's the type of story that has twisted common fairy tales and it has strongly highlighted a huge part of society: having beauty or being perfect. It is amazing how Gail put this together. Good job and thank you for letting us see your imagination in the form of a book. This book is absolutely the best!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really good book. Writing style is awesome. Everything is pg and the magic is not spiritistic. Everyone should try to read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was OK but not my fave. It had SOME interesting parts but i thought it was a littlle slow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Best book ever! If you ever have time on youre hands I suggest reading Fairest because you will never be able to stop reading :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book! I feel like I have read it over 100 times. I like how Gale Cason Levine had the main person be. Her nname is Aza and all she wants to do is be beautiful. At the end she falls in love. I also like how Aza thinks and everyone says she isn't pretty, but inside she is pretty, she has such an amazing voice. Her voice is so sweet. If you like fairy tales and fun try this fun, amazing book! It is awesome!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a very fun book that is full of adventure, romance, and magic! It may not be a whole lot like Snow White, but it is very interesting and a great read! For me, I have to have a long period of time in order to read one of Gail's books because its so hard to put them down! =D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked her other books better
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Levine hit a home run on this book!!!one of the best books i have ever read! Great book. It i a MUST HAVE!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The plot was left undevelopted and confusing, Aza and Ijori's Romance petty and undevelopted almost as badly as the story itself, and Lacking an credible turning point or climax. Aza's stay at gnome caverns can hardly count as a climax. Ella Enchanted contained endless detail and plot development, the messege was clear nontheless, and the whole thing made sense. No more, I suppose.