This fantasy, romance by Gail Carson Levine is published by HarperCollins Publishers and is written for kids 13 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Aza, born in Ayortha, is left in the room of an inn, the Featherbed. The innkeepers welcome her as part of their family and treat her as a daughter. Aza is not pretty or petite, but she has a beautiful voice, which is important to Ayorthaians because they sing almost as much as they speak. Still, Aza longs to be beautiful. When she becomes the queen's new lady-in-waiting, she is forced to throw her voice and make it sound as if Queen Ivi has a beautiful singing voice. Aza calls what she does illusing.
After the king is wounded, Queen Ivi rules Ayortha with the help of a magic mirror. The people hate her. Meanwhile, the king's nephew, Prince Ijori, and Aza fall in love. When Aza finds Queen Ivi's mirror, a creature, Skulni, is in the mirror and influences Aza to drink a beauty potion. Before long, Aza and her illusing are blamed for all the problems in the land. She is put in prison. Aza escapes her prison and reaches the caves of the gnomes, where she receives sanctuary. She learns she is part gnome.
When Aza eats a poisonous apple, she is transported into Skulni's mirror, and she must outwit Skulni by breaking the mirror from the inside. Healed, she finds that Prince Ijori still loves her. They return to the castle, where the king has recovered. The king knows that he can't have his wife in power again, so he resigns his position. Prince Ijori marries Aza, and they rule Ayortha with wisdom and song.
Aza's adoptive parents train her to be beautiful on the inside, as they do all their children. She is as much their child as their biological children. When news reaches them that Aza was the reason behind all the bad things happening in the kingdom, they don't believe it. They know their daughter and continue to tell others of her innocence. The king of the Ayorthaians is a kind and wise ruler. When he is wounded, his wife is weak and trusts a magic mirror's guidance because it praises her beauty. The gnome zhamM is a judge for the gnomes. He gives Aza sanctuary and cares for her as a daughter. When he judges, he considers each case. His purpose is not to discern what is fair but what will be best for both parties. For example, in one case, a gnome accuses another gnome of stealing his shovel. Judge zhamM looks into the future and decides that by giving the thief the shovel, he grows in integrity and the owner has a better life without it. So he awards the shovel to the thief.
This society comprises singers, gnomes, ogres, fairies, magic mirrors, spells and potions. Magic is considered a normal part of life. Books of spells and potions are in the library. The problems of Queen Ivi and Aza begin with their desires to be more beautiful, then the problems are escalated by Skulni's trickery in the magic mirror and by beauty potions and spells. Ayorthaians also believe in the power of singing. Singing brings strength and unity and aids in healing.
When Aza escapes from the dungeon, she must force a bolt open, which causes her to bleed. Ogres eat Ayorthaians. Aza is poisoned and almost dies.
Prince Ijori and Aza kiss passionately. They walk in the dark together at the castle and later are alone in a ravine all night, but do not engage in sex. They hold hands as they sleep next to each other.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
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