This is my first foray into the villain’s series so I thought I should read them in order. The collection has been on my “to read” list forever but the twisted tales series kept multiplying and skipping the queue! As I am a good girl and never break the rules, I started with book one: Fairest of All.
I will say that this series of books are quite thin and are an easy read. This may be due to them falling into the Young Adult category but I can safely add them into the “busy working mum” category too. (P.S. Booksirens, NetGalley and Goodreads: this should definitely become a category!)
Personally, I didn’t have high hopes for these books due to some of the reviews that I read beforehand, particularly those that refer to the series as “fan fiction”. However, in these cases, I believe the reviewers in question have missed the point of these novels: these are not to be compared with twisted tales as they are not retellings. These novels provide a backstory to our villains: a different perspective that explores the circumstances around their evil actions.
Fairest of All tells the tale of the Wicked Queen from Snow White before she became wicked. The reader is introduced to a new bride who loves her husband, the king, and adores her new stepdaughter Snow White. Snow returns her stepmother’s love, referring to her as “momma”, and the little family are perfectly happy and content, attending celebrations in the kingdom and having cosy dinners in the castle. Their life truly is idyllic, that is, until the call of battle draws the king away.
Initially little is said of the Queen’s life before she met the king. We know her father was a renowned mirror maker and her mother was considered extraordinarily beautiful before her untimely death.
However, the Queen’s former life is slowly revealed: a heartbreaking tale that exposes the vulnerability of the monarch and endears her to the reader. Suddenly, it seems almost natural that a person so deprived of love could possess such vanity and unthinkable that this character could descend into madness: committing the evil deeds that we know lie in the upcoming pages.
Despite her flaws, I found I never identified with the Queen fully as a human character. I suspect this is because the Queen is only referred to by her title throughout the novel; a curious method by Valentino. Is Valentino keeping us focused on her fate as the Wicked Queen? Perhaps she is suggesting that the Queen has never been her own woman: merely a tortured mirror maker’s daughter who became a figurehead and a mother in one fell swoop?
The Queen is such a complex character that all the other characters in the book seem quite flat in comparison. Again, I suspect this is intentional: the tale is from the Queen’s perspective after all. Nevertheless, the reader is reunited with old characters such as Snow, the huntsman and the mirror as well as being introduced to new characters, the most notable of which are the three cousins of the King.
The Odd Sisters are described as such from the beginning: a titbit I greatly enjoyed as their novel has recently been released. They are fascinating characters, always keeping the reader on their toes and causing us to never quite know whether they are pure evil or simply insane. Their transparent disappointment that the Queen is not an evil stepmother and their candid conversations about magic cause worry for characters and readers alike: it is clear that they have more than a passing impact on the Queen’s demise.
The names of the characters within this novel possess a clear imagery of light and darkness. Snow and Verona (Latin for a true/honest image) bring out a side to the Queen that is the polar opposite of that of the odd sisters and the magic mirror; who is often referred to as “the Slave”. I’m sure this is how the Queen sees the relationship but the reader sees this from an entirely different perspective. Although the face appears to do her bidding, it becomes more apparent that the power within the relationship does not lie with the Queen.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. In my opinion it stayed true to the fairytale without purely repeating the story. Valentino humanised the Queen for the reader before promptly showing how hiding your vulnerabilities and not accepting help can lead you down a dangerous path. The Queen is not evil from the beginning: in fact, she shows her capacity for love throughout, but her depression, grief and madness gradually consume her.
For me, the twist in the final few pages make this book a must read. I still can’t decide whether Valentino has made the docile, simple character of Snow into a strong heroine or whether she has upturned all of our childhoods and is hinting at a darker side. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what comes next.