The Fairest Beauty
I could swear I wrote and posted this review (I even remembering going back and changing the name, because I wrote it as "Sophia" half the time and "Sophie" the other half, grrr), but when I was updating my "Year's Links" page (the one that goes up in January, showcasing the year at a glance), I realized it wasn't even on that list. Oops! Not sure how that happened, but better late than never, right?
The Fairest Beauty is a semi-sequel to The Healer's Apprentice, in that it features the son(s) of Wilhelm and his Rose. While the "star" of the story is the mysterious beauty Sophie, who has no idea of her true identity or that she's bethrothed to Valten, I felt like it was as much Gabe's story. If not more. (Possibly I fell a little in love with him ...) When a dying old woman appears on the doorstep of Hagenheim Castle, claiming the long-thought-dead daughter and heiress of an also-thought-dead Duke, who happens to be the bethrothed of Valten, is really alive and in mortal danger, Wilhelm and Company form a plan of rescue. Unfortunately, Valten is laid up with a broken leg and the plan cannot be put in action until he's healed. So Gabe decides to just sneak away and rescue Sophie himself. Because everyone is always flaunting Valten's valiance, and Gabe feels forgotten and misunderstood. Or something. His rescue begins as an act of familial rebellion, but turns into so much more once he meets Sophie - and Duchess Ermengard.
What happens next is fairly standard "Snow White" fare: they run away from the "wicked witch" and find refuge in The Cottage of the Seven, wherein seven "outcasts" demonstrate amazing love and acceptance, hiding and healing Sophie and Gabe. But the witch finds them, attempts to destroy the happy hideaway, and meets an unfortunate demise. The story is basic and familiar. The characters, and historical (rather than fantasy) setting, make it breathe. Sophie is, admittedly, a little "too perfect" -- but she's Snow White, who is perhaps one of the most painfully perfect princesses in fairy tale-land. She does however have the very human quality of doubt; all her life she's been belittled and lied to, and for her to grow to accept the truths surrounding her is a HUGE thing. Gabe and the Seven play a large role in this transformation, and Sophie is a more likeable version of Snow White than most. Now, Gabe. Oh Gabe ... He's headstrong, impetuous and stubborn. He fights first, asks questions later, and is a general, all-around Dude. I love him. And I love that so much of this story is the story of his transformation and growth. He matures and develops into quite the perfect "Prince Charming," but still seems so ... real.
A lovely addition to Dickerson's fairy tale series, and quite possibly my favorite offering so far. I'm also very intrigued by the upcoming release The Captive Maiden, which will star Valten.
Book provided by author for review.