The Fairest of Them All
Touchstone / August 6, 2013 / $15.00 print, $9.73 digital
In an enchanted forest, the maiden Rapunzel’s beautiful voice captivates a young prince hunting nearby. Overcome, he climbs her long golden hair to her tower and they spend an afternoon of passion together, but by nightfall the prince must return to his kingdom, and his betrothed.
Now king, he weds his intended and the kingdom rejoices when a daughter named Snow White is born. Beyond the castle walls, Rapunzel waits in her crumbling tower, gathering news of her beloved from those who come to her seeking wisdom. She tries to mend her broken heart but her love lingers, pulsing in the magic tendrils of her hair.
The king, too, is haunted by his memories, but after his queen’s mysterious death, he is finally able to follow his heart into the darkness of the forest. But can Rapunzel trade the shadows of the forest for the castle and be the innocent beauty he remembers?
Carolyn Turgeon takes traditional fairy tales and turns them on their head, taking a look at the other women in the stories—previously, she's tackled Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother and Princess Margrethe, the other woman from Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. This time she has outdone herself by mashing up two tales into one, making Rapunzel the wicked stepmother of Snow White.
Turgeon’s storytelling strength is that she weaves words together so flawlessly, so rich and full of meaning that you think you are truly reading one of the classics fairy tales of another era, not from the hand of a contemporary author. The language, imagery, and gut wrenching emotion made for a flawless and fast read. I devoured the book much like they way wicked witches concoct potions to devour their prey.
We first meet the fair-haired Rapunzel who is no longer the fairest of them all…
I was the girl with the long long hair, trapped in the tower. You have no doubt heard of me. As a young woman I was very famous for those tresses, even though I lived in the middle of the woods and had never even been to court, not for a feast or a wedding or a matter of law.
My hair was like threads of gold flowing down my back and past the floor. If I didn’t tie it up, it would sweep across the stone and collect dust like a broom. I could lean out my tower window and it would fall out like an avalanche, gleaming like the sun hitting the water. It was as bright as sunflowers or daisies, softer than fur, stronger than an iron chain....
It was sorcery, that hair. Sometimes now I wonder if things would have been different, had I been plain.
It is a hard thing, not being that girl any longer. Even as I sit here, I cannot help but turn toward the mirror and ask the question I have asked a thousand times before:
“Who is the fairest of them all?”
The mirror shifts. The glass moves back and forth, like water. And then my image disappears, until a voice, like a memory, or something from my bones and skin, gives me the same answer it always does now:
I turn back to the parchment in front of me and try to ignore the ache inside. The apple waits on the table next to me, gleaming with poison. All that’s left to do is write it down, everything that happened, so that there will still be some record in this world.
Whoa, talk about a prologue! We are then thrust back in to the past, to the beginning of the tale. We meet a young, vibrant Rapunzel and her guardian, Mathena. They live as outcasts in the forest because they practice witchcraft. Even though witchcraft was banished from the kingdom, many women come to them looking for spells and potions—brews and ointments to make their husbands faithful, make them fertile, the cure their ills, and for their family to have a bountiful harvest.
One day the Prince Josef comes to the forest and is immediately enchanted by Rapunzel. He invites her to his father’s upcoming Harvest Ball. She accepts, but Mathena locks her in the tower, fearing the worst for her future, that this man will ruin her for she is a woman of the woods, a sorceress who could never marry a prince.
Grief stricken, Rapunzel spends her days locked away but studies the craft, bewitching Josef to return for her. And he finally does, climbing her long blonde tresses. These tresses are magic, for they see and feel all of whoever touches a strand. When he finally ascends he falls into her arms, drowning in her hair…
“This is what heaven must be like,” he said, interrupting the flow of emotions.
“Pulling my hair in through a window?”
“Yes,” he said.
I was giddy with happiness. “You don’t seem very much like a prince,” I said.
“And what is a prince supposed to be like?”
“I thought princes were dignified.”
“You don’t find me dignified?” He made a face at me, twisting his features into a ridiculous expression.
“Well, you are the most dignified prince I’ve ever seen, though it’s true I’ve only seen one.”
“You might have better luck if you didn’t get yourself locked inside of towers.”
I laughed, as he reached out and ran his palm along my cheek. I leaned into it. And then we fell silent, just watching each other.
Sigh and swoon.
Based on the vivid prologue we can only know that things will take a turn for the worst. But the journey is so beautifully written you cannot help but keep turning the pages to see if there will be a Happily Ever After and for whom?
Turgeon writes these strong female characters, their flaws, and goodness. You keep reminding yourself you’re rooting for the villain you were trained since childhood to hate. I couldn’t help but relate to many of Rapunzel’s many woes. Beauty and how it changes as we age. Love and infatuation, what is real and what is not. She gives these women a voice of their own, their own story that must be told and she is simply amazing at it.
Learn more about or order a copy of Carolyn Turgeon's The Fairest of Them All, out today:
Charli Mac writes Women’s Fiction and YA Paranormal set in Philly and the South Jersey Shore. Snorts & screams are probable and fist-pumps are highly discouraged at www.charlimac.com. Twitter her @charlimacs.