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Ever since Aza was left on her adoptive parents' doorstep as a baby, she's been a mystery. She is plain-looking, with large bones, pale white skin, ruby red lips, "a big sphere of a face and round button eyes." For all this, though, she makes up with a beautiful, even magical voice. In the kingdom of Ayortha, music and singing are prized among all other gifts, and Aza (whose name means "lark") has the most beautiful voice in her whole region. What Aza has that all other Ayorthaians lack, though, is the gift of "illusing," of throwing one's voice and mimicking the song or speech of virtually any other person.

Growing up in a happy, loving family and helping to run the family's rural inn, Aza longs to be beautiful, but contents herself with the affection of her parents and siblings, who delight in her voice and her kindness. When, through a series of events, Aza is chosen to accompany a duchess to the marriage of King Oscaro to a foreign princess, her quiet life will change forever.

Before long, Aza is drawn into the politics and intrigue of the royal court. Shortly after Aza arrives, King Oscaro suffers a blow to the head and becomes comatose, making his teenaged bride the ruler of Ayortha. When Queen Ivi becomes aware of Aza's power of illusing, she secretly enlists the girl to use her voice when Ivi (who can't sing) must perform at the regular, high-profile courtly Sings. Soon, Ivi, counseled by some mysterious advisor (who may be connected to that magic mirror she received as a wedding gift from the Fairy Lucinda), lets her newfound power go to her head, as she abuses her crown and takes away many Ayorthaian rights and privileges. As Ivi's lady-in-waiting, Aza is viewed as an accessory to the enemy by the rest of her countrymen. When Aza is seduced by Ivi's magic mirror, all her ideas of love, friendship, beauty and loyalty will be seriously tested.

In a story that draws freely (and creatively) on the Snow White fairy tale, Gail Carson Levine creates a wholly original and utterly extraordinary fantasy world, as well as a heroine readers won't soon forget. Peopled with gnomes, ogres and all the eccentric personalities of the court, Levine's Ayortha is a fully realized imaginary world. In addition, Aza's kindness, humility and gradual recognition of her own self-worth contributes an important message about the value of inner beauty, no matter how well hidden.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 19, 2006

by Gail Carson Levine

  • Publication Date: May 6, 2008
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060734108
  • ISBN-13: 9780060734107