I wasn't particularly happy with this book. Aza -- our heroine -- is constantly obsessed with her perceived ugliness. The theme of beauty, what it meant, what influence it gave, what price is paid for it runs throughout the book. As it does, indeed, in Snow White. I found the heroine herself lacking in some way: perhaps a lack of humour, a lack of a certain something that would make her loveable. She let too much of her identity become wrapped within her flaws, rather than her strengths. As I'm sure a lot of girls do (it's a rare girl who feels beautiful without hours of make up and preperation), I have issues with the way I look. I didn't feel like I connected with the heroine about this, however. Her reaction to feeling ugly was too exaggerated and not something you as the reader could fully empathise with. Similar themes were explored by Scott Westerfeld (Uglies) and I adore his treatment in contrast to Levine's.
The world itself was lovingly described, though it could sometimes be a bit 'crowded'; too much information about one scene at one time. Still, I felt quite immersed in it, particularly the descriptions of the colour 'htun'. A kingdom obsessed with singing's an interesting concept; there were some lyrical gems in there. However, mentally imagining them singing some of the lines they sang: too often without meaning, or rhyme, was painful. It would get very annoying as a movie.
Example of irritating sung line:
"Where is the pitcher?" ...Don't get me wrong, I love randomly bursting into song. However: you just know that if it was someone constantly doing that in real life, you'd find aforementioned pitcher just to be able to bash them around the head with it and make them please God stop.
"Did Sir Peter"... "steal the pitcher?"
"But,"... "it's very large for stealing."
There was something lacking in the interaction with our prince -- Ijori -- who had a token flaw or two. I didn't really know him that well. I knew Ivi -- the new queen who is the center of the conflict within the book -- much better than most of the other characters. She was beautifully explored and much more real. I liked the glimpses of the secondary characters; however we did not stay long enough to know them properly. The young adult voice here seems to have held the writer back, stopping her from properly bringing everything truly alive.
While the themes and world were explored nicely, this book seemed to lack the soul, wit and sparkle I expected from Levine; as well as the engaging with her heroine.
This gets a 2.5 magic mirrors out of 5 from me.
You can buy it here (UK) or here (US).