What if Rapunzel was Snow White’s evil stepmother? From the author of Godmother and Mermaid, The Fairest of Them All explores what happens when fairy tale heroines grow up and don’t live happily ever after.
Living in an enchanted forest, Rapunzel spends her days tending a mystical garden with her adoptive mother, Mathena. A witch, Mathena was banished from court because of her magic powers, though the women from the kingdom still seek her advice and herbal remedies. She waits, biding her time to exact revenge against those who betrayed her.
One day Rapunzel’s beautiful voice and long golden locks captivate a young prince hunting in the forest nearby. Overcome, he climbs her hair up to her chamber and they fall into each other’s arms. But their afternoon of passion is fleeting, and the prince must return to his kingdom, as he is betrothed to another.
Now king, he marries his intended to bring peace to his kingdom. They have a stunning daughter named Snow White. Yet the king is haunted by his memories of Rapunzel, and after the mysterious death of his wife, realizes he is free to marry the woman he never stopped longing for. In hopes of also replacing the mother of his beloved daughter, the king makes Rapunzel his queen.
But when Mathena’s wedding gift of an ancient mirror begins speaking to her, Rapunzel falls under its evil spell, and the king begins to realize that Rapunzel is not the beautiful, kind woman he dreamed of.
We all know I am a huge sucker for fairytale retellings, and now I get to
push share that love with you! So thanks to The Unofficial Addiction Book Fan Club, A Reading Nurse and Carolyn Turgeon I bring you an excerpt, from a retelling of a combination of classic fairytales!
I was seventeen when I first saw him. I was drying herbs by the fireplace of the main house, as I sometimes did back then, enjoying the scent of the burning pinecones and wood, when I heard a knock at the front door. Loup, our cat, was curled up on the couch next to me, and our falcon, Brune, was perched on the mantel. Mathena was out back, tending the garden that grew behind the crumbling tower I lived in. The tower was a space of my own, and I loved sitting in the window, from which I could see the whole forest and even, on clear days, the king’s palace in the distance, while I brushed my hair and sang to the sparrows that gathered in the trees around me. But on those late summer afternoons, when the air was just starting to chill, I found myself in the main house, stealing time by the fire.
Without even thinking, I got up and opened the door, assuming it was another lovelorn client come to tell Mathena and me her woes and get a spell to fix them. Instead I found myself looking into the eyes of the most handsome man I’d ever seen, dressed in rich clothes that were unfamiliar to me: a velvet tunic, a neat cap, an intricate sword stuck to his belt. His mouth full and curved into a smile. He had sparkling eyes, grayish blue, the kind I’d only ever seen in cats, and there was a mischievous joy about him that made me like him instantly. No one had ever looked at me like that, either, like he wanted to devour me, and in that instant my whole body changed to something new.
When I say he was the most handsome man I’d ever seen, I have to admit; at the time, I’d barely seen any men at all.
You see, I’d grown up hearing about the dangers of the male portion of our race. Mathena had disavowed men altogether, and was quite convincing in her reasoning. “Men will ruin you,” she’d say. “They’ll drive a woman made more surely than the plague. Just look at what’s happened to Hannah Stout.” I’d shudder, thinking of our once-beautiful client, nearly bald now from having ripped out her own hair, hair that had been lush and shining before her new husband ran off with his stepdaughter. Mathena had cures for love, like yarrow root, which could halt infatuations when added to bathwater, or elderberry bark, which could numb a heartache when boiled down and pressed against that fickle organ. You could tell sometimes when a woman was suffering from love, from the cord twisting around her neck, from which the bark performed its duty.
Most of my experience with men came from the stories of Mathena and I heard every day, from the women who sought out our cures.Men themselves did not consult us for ailments of the heart, especially as it was considered a women’s work to have a heart at all. Day in and day out, I heard tales of men seducing ladies, abandoning wives, abusing daughters. I’d sit and help Mathena dispense salves and teas and potions and think how strange it was that so many women succumbed to foolish notions, as if one man could make them feel full and complete, even when he was married to someone else. But I knew so little then. I had barely set my eyes upon a man in all my seventeen years, other than the occasional troubadour or marksman-or group of hunters, sometimes accompanying the king-who dashed by, through the woods.
It was only the daughters for whom I felt real sympathy, back then. If it hadn’t been for Mathena, I would have ended up like one of the bruised, tear-stained girls who showed up at our door. Once upon a time, Mathena had lived in a cottage next door to my mother and father, in the center of the kingdom. She kept a wonderful garden with a brilliant patch of rapunzel that my mother, who was with child and could see the garden from her bedroom window, longed for so much that she refused to eat anything else. She began wasting away, Mathena told me, until one day my father climbed over the wall into Mathena’s garden to steal the rapunzel, trampling over all her carrots and cabbages in the process. He came back and back. Even after I was born, my mother cared only for the plant, which was never enough for her, and she’d take out all that need and frustration on me. WHen I was seven, Mathena rescued me from my parents and brought me to the forest and made a potion for me so that I’d forget everything that had happened before, all that I’d suffered at my real parents’ hands. For that, I thought I’d be forever loyal to her. Then there he was, this beautiful richly dressed man at my door, so close I could count his eyelashes, and I understood for the first time what all those spells and salves and magic teas and baths and candles were for.
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