Two qualities are revered above all others in Ayortha: beauty and a strong singing voice. And though Aza has a voice befitting royalty--and has learned the trick of throwing it so that it seems as though her songs are coming from anywhere she likes--physical beauty has never been one of her attributes, as she is reminded seemingly every day, when she's cruelly shunned by visitors to her family's inn.
When Aza is invited to a royal wedding, she thinks of it as an honor which will soon pass. Instead, she is pulled into the role of Lady in Waiting to the new queen, who has a plan for Aza's skills. The queen feels her singing voice will not live up to society's expectations, and so she commands Aza to be her voice for her--to project her voice so that it seems as though the queen herself is singing.
Aza doesn't like the deception, but the queen leaves her no choice. Reluctantly, Aza does as she asks--but not all is as it seems. And if Aza can't unravel the web of deceptions and magic in Ayortha's capital soon, it will cost her her life.
A fairy-tale of a story threaded with elements of 'Sleeping Beauty', Fairest is a fantasy full of snatches of Aza's songs. I liked Aza and the conflicts, both external and internal, of her and the other characters, which made the story feel authentic. I particularly enjoyed how Gail Carson Levine brings in the stringent and unfair beauty ideals of fairy tales in a story reminiscent of 'Sleeping Beauty', one of the worst offenders on this particular topic. Fairest is set in the same world as Ella Enchanted, but despite overlap in places and a few characters, they remain wholly independent of one another, and you can easily read Fairest without any prior knowledge of Ella Enchanted. I recommend Fairest to readers ages ten and up looking for an interesting, absorbing fairy tale retelling.