In "Fairest" Gail Carson Levine returns to the wonderful world she created in "Ella Enchanted." While the flavor of the story is very similar, this story does take place in a different kingdom, so there are many fascinating differences. Ayortha is a land of singers. Everything is expressed through song, and nothing of importance happens without song being involved.
Aza is a young woman who avoids all mirrors, because while the people of the land value song above all else, they also value beauty, and that is the last word that will ever be applied to Aza. Her one comfort is that she has the ability to sing magnificently. She lives with her family in the inn that they run, and she mostly tries to stay out of everyone else’s way. There is one guest, a Duchess, who takes a fancy to her though, and when the Duchess's companion falls ill, the Duchess decides to take Aza with her to the palace!
It's a special time at the palace, for the King is bringing back his beloved, a fair beauty from another land, and they are to be wed.
Unfortunately, right after the wedding a terrible accident occurs, and the King is involved in a tragic accident that leaves him comatose, and leaves his young bride to rule the Kingdom. Unfortunately Queen Ivi isn't all that she seems. She is steeped in treacherous magic, and will do anything to guard her secret. Also, she can't sing a note. Not a tragedy where she comes from, but horrific in the land of Ayortha. She soon discovers that Aza can not only sing, she can imitate anyone, and throw her voice to make it seem like that song is coming from wherever she wishes!
Queen Ivi makes Aza her lady in waiting, and poor Aza, who has already suffered much, enters one of the most miserable periods of her life. Ivi is manipulative and cares little for the feelings of those around her. Aza is forced to lie on behalf of the Queen and it tears her apart inside. She is also constantly comparing herself, and her own looks, to the beauty of Ivi.
Until, that is, something happens that forces Ivi to have Aza killed, or so she thinks.