[openbook booknumber=”0545111765″][rating:4/5]

Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to be pretty…

Aza’s singing is the fairest in all the land, and the most unusual. She can “throw” her voice so it seems to come from anywhere. But singing is only one of th two qualities prized in the Kingdom of Ayortha. Aza doesn’t possess the other: beauty. Not even close. She’s hidden in the shadows in her parents’ inn, but when she becomes lady-in-waiting to the new queen, she has to step into the light – especially when the queen demands a dangerous favor. A magic mirror, a charming prince, a jealous queen, palace intrigue, and an injured king twine into a maze that Aza must penetrate to save herself and her beloved kingdom.

In this, very loose, re-telling of the fairy tale Snow White Gail Carson Levine spins a tale set in the world of Ella Enchanted about a young girl with an amazing voice, and unamazing looks. Ava was abandoned at an inn when she was just a baby. The innkeeper took her and raised her as his own and she grew into an amazing singer but had to put up with people’s stares, slurs and abuse concerning her appearance which was not inline with what the kingdom thought of as beauty. She is often described as being ugly but when a more frank description is given their main complaints are that she is large, both tall and broad, and that her coloring is odd, having pale skin, dark hair and red lips.

The inn’s guests were sometimes friendly, but more often they were rude. As bad as the ones who stared were the ones who looked away in embarrassment. Some guests didn’t want me to serve their food, and some didn’t want me to clean their rooms.

We Ayorthians are sensitive to beauty, more sensitive than the subjects in other kingdoms, I think. We love a fine voice especially, but we also admire a rosy sunset, a sweet scent, a fetching face. And when we’re not pleased, we’re displeased.
       I developed the habit of holding my hand in front of my face when guests arrived, a foolish practice, because it raised curiosity and concealed little.

Her voice overpowers all of that though and she is ultimately considered one of the best singers in the kingdom, and that matters very much in Ayortha the kingdom of singers, where people sing all day, every day. Singing is an intrinsic part of their culture, they have Sings and singing contests, and songs for every occasion. When, by chance, she is taken by a duchess to the King’s wedding and the Queen overhears her singing she covets the voice for herself. Queen Ivi discovers that Ava can not just sing but can also use mimicry to mimic other people’s voices and can throw her voice without moving her lips, a talent Ava calls illusing. Ivi threatens Ava’s family unless the commoner uses her voice to replace the Queen’s during major singing events so that, combined with the Queen’s otherworldy beauty, the Queen could capture the hearts of her people.

When the King is injured the Queen comes into power and uses her new influence to create a dictatorship with Ava as the unwilling tool to help it come about. Things turn dire for the kingdom and ultimately Ava has a lot to learn as she chooses between the beauty she craves and the kingdom she loves.

I loved this book as I thought it had a lot of powerful messages about looks in a thin obsessed and beauty obsessed society. I loved how this heroine was not above saving herself when need be and also accepted help from others when she needed it, not too far one way or the other. I also liked having a prince that looks beyond skin deep when he falls in love. Highly recommended young adult novel that takes a fairy tale and spins it into something even a modern day teen can relate to without ever leaving its magical kingdom.

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