Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
There's a lot of fairy tale in The Fairest of Them All but not much history, other than a general atmosphere of centuries past when kings and queens held court and feared the power of witches. The story is a clever merging of two Grimm's fairy tales, "Rapunzel" and "Snow White," with enough twists on both to keep readers from guessing how the new story ends.
Rapunzel lives in a forest cottage with her guardian, a witch who understands the use of herbs for healing. The witch has more supernatural powers than she at first reveals to Rapunzel or the reader. We know there's magic in the story, though, because Rapunzel's beautiful golden-blonde hair is astoundingly, unnaturally long - so long that, as the story continues, readers may wonder how she manages not to get it tangled under a horse's hooves and, like Isadora Duncan with her scarf, come to a sad end. There's a tower by the cottage, all that remains of a ruined castle, but Rapunzel is not locked into it until after a prince arrives to flirt with her. The witch, realizing he's a heart-breaker, tries to keep them apart. There would be no story, of course, if she succeeded. Gradually, the reader discovers that Rapunzel's sweetness is mixed with some very dark urges, and that she is destined to become the stepmother of a girl named Snow White.
The Fairest of Them All includes sex, violence, and shocking revelations, but nothing very graphic. The focus is on what people feel. Led astray by the temptation to act selfishly, in the midst of disaster Rapunzel learns compassion. (2013, 262 pages, plus a Reading Group Guide)More about The Fairest of Them All at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository