Fairest of All, The Beast Within, Poor Unfortunate Soul – Serena Valentino
August 2009, July 2014, July 2016, Disney Press
250 pages, 215 pages, 196 pages, 3/5 stars
I have always been fascinated by Disney villains. I was sceptical that Valentino’s series devoted a book to Prince Adam (the Beast), instead of Maleficent, but when I saw the hardcovers on Instagram I knew that I had to take my chances – they are so pretty, both with and without their dust jackets. Take off the dust jacket, and another face of the character is revealed. It’s pretty cool!
Fairest of All was a really great take on the Wicked Queen from Snow White. It portrayed her as a loving stepmother, driven mad by the verbal abuses of her father trapped in a magic mirror. Valentino also created a family of witches, who were somehow related to Snow White, and determined to undermine the Wicked Queen’s role of mother at every turn. This first book was my favourite of the three, and I could happily have read more in this story, as it finished on an intriguing twist as to what lay in store for Snow White’s future.
The second and third books in the series were based less around the villains, and more on the triplet witches introduced in Fairest of All. It was these witches who messed up Prince Adam’s life, and these witches were betrayed by Ursula. We did learn some backstory, but it was for the benefit of the witches’ storyline.
The witches were trying to find their younger sister, another powerful enchantress. These stories just didn’t capture my attention. I was disinterested in the characters, and just wanted more about the villains. I was also disappointed that Maleficent was mentioned only briefly – she was really cool, and I would have loved to see her play a bigger role; or even get her own book; she still might, I hope, but the ending of Poor Unfortunate Soul felt very final.
Overall, I enjoyed discovering an alternative backstory to well-known Disney characters. My main complaint is that characters of Valentino’s own creation overwhelmed the beloved Disney characters. I also felt that the Beast didn’t deserve to be cast as a villain, and that his spot could have been filled better by Maleficent, to create a trilogy of strong, wicked females.
How much sway do you think is OK when someone is retelling a well-known story, especially in a Disney context?