You all know about my love of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and how disappointed I was with the Disney Twisted Tale rendition of the Evil Queen’s story. At the end of that review, however, I did mention a saving grace in Disney villain lore: Fairest of All: A Tale of the Wicked Queen, by Serena Valentino. When I came home for winter break, I found my copy tucked away in my family’s library, and I knew I had to read it again for this blog. And guys, there are so many reasons I come back to this book time and again.
Fairest of All begins just after the Queen (she goes by no other name in this book), marries Snow White’s father, the King. At first, it’s a genuinely happy life in the castle. But when tragedy strikes, and three strange women start hanging about the castle, the Queen faces several temptations that change her life forever.
From the beginning, you get a very good sense of the Queen’s character. She feels insecure not only about marrying the King as a peasant, but also about her looks. Her now-dead father emotionally abused her, reminding her all the time how ugly she was, giving her a fierce inferiority complex in spite of the Queen’s beauty. In that respect, the Queen is very relatable. She is a genuinely good person who was put down by the one person who was supposed to love her, and all she craves is true love.
The key to this book’s emotional gravity is knowing what is going to befall the Queen. We know sooner or later she’ll become the cruel, calculating villain from the original story. But we cannot make her a perfect human being who just makes an instant switch. She has to have an Achilles heel—in this case, her vast insecurities about her appearance and wanting someone to love her—from the very start that will eventually trip her up.
The Queen genuinely loves Snow White and the King, and it’s easy to understand why the Queen is so attached to both of them. Neither of them care about her looks; they love her for who she is, and the Queen is very glad to have found that. And we, the reader, are glad to see her so happy—because we know that her happiness will eventually get snatched from her.
I don’t mean to get personal, but part of why I came back to this book now is because I know firsthand the Queen’s fears of losing her love. You see, my boyfriend lives quite close to where some dangerous riots happened last year, and I feared for his safety. I knew he would be smart and leave if something happened, but I could not help entertaining the horrifying possibility of him getting hurt or worse. He is such a bright spot in my life that the thought of losing him so suddenly terrified me to my core.
In short, I never thought I would relate so much to a Disney villain, but that’s why I have such a soft spot for the Evil Queen.
The book is really good at naturally leading the Queen toward her doom. That is, the Queen might notice early on that someone is particularly beautiful, and you think, “Oh, shoot, the Queen is going to have them banished or killed later on!” Long before anything really bad happens, the Queen prefers that no one see her without makeup, and she gets particularly irritated without the King around, fearing that he might come to harm.
Like I said, we have a very good setup for the Queen’s character, and her downfall, very early on. Her fear of losing both the people she loves and the means of making people love her—her beauty—feels justified. There are instances where it seems like the Queen is going to redeem herself after all the wicked she has done, and you do genuinely hope for her to make a turnaround—even if you know deep down that she won’t. Such instances only serve to make her more human.
However much I love this book, I do admit that sometimes, the writing style grates on me. There are so many comma splices and long-running sentences that not even fairy tale characters, in all their romantic gusto, would say out loud. I do admit that it is a testament to this book’s power: even if the writing style certainly needs polishing, the story still pulls me in so well.
Perhaps some Disney villains, like the Evil Queen, were made to be pure evil. But I just cannot help seeing the all-too-human elements within her. Make no mistake, I love her as a villain, but knowing that she once had happiness makes me feel so sad for her.