This book made it to my post about the best YA book covers. And it also budged two books in line in my To-Read pile. Was it all that it was cracked up to be?
I enjoyed it. And, I want to be a children’s or YA librarian, so I guess it makes sense that I have a soft spot for fairy tales. And this book is made after a fairy tale I adore that does not get all that much attention: The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
The book is about Azalea, the oldest of the twelve princesses. Like another fairy tale I love, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, the book begins with the death of the main character’s mother. Azalea makes a promise to look after her younger sisters. And she does. The girls are required to endure a year of mourning for their mother, where they are not allowed to leave the castle (which is actually pretty bad considering their economic situation). They also have to cover all the windows, stop all clocks at the time of their mother’s death, and have no real contact with the outside world except for R.B (Royal Business), which is mostly the priority of the king. And oh, the king/their father leaves for war almost immediately after the funeral.
Azalea has to decide if mourning is more important than the livelihood of all her sisters. The book is layered with different types of dancing. The mother loved dancing. The girls all love dancing, and for them to all be denied dancing for a whole year is pretty tough. They come across a secret passageway that leads them to a magical place, where they all can dance as if in a ball. The place is monitored by a man named Keeper, who of course is not who he appears to be. There’s romance, there’s dancing, there’s magic tea sets, secret passage ways, and all sorts of other elements thrown in to make this story read like a classic fairy tale.
However, there is a “but” coming. It was magical, but it took me a long time to get into. It’s one of those stories where the main character is almost too good. She puts her sisters before herself. She doesn’t want to let anyone down. She listens to her parents. And I didn’t much care for her unrealistic “goodness.” Eventually, she stands up against her father. And I think that was the moment where I actually grew to like her character. She questions what she does later, but I don’t care. She stood up for what she believed in, and that’s when the story took off!
She fights to the death for her sisters. She stands up to Keeper and even manages to save her kingdom. The characters who never did manage to impress me: most of her sisters. I kind of got to know the second two oldest girls (Bramble and Clover) through their differences in character and romantic interests. But the other sisters were merely just names, like the names of the Lost Boys in Peter Pan. And I know I have said this about other books too, but why am I supposed to care so much about all these girls if I don’t even know them? I mean why should I support all of Azalea’s sacrifices if I don’t really know who is benefitting from them? And okay, I get that it is hard to make 12 different princesses each have their own distinct personality –12 is a lot. But then maybe, change the tale from 12 sisters to 4? And if that is stretching it too much, at least try to get me to care for the younger a little bit more.
The only other telling of this tale that I loved to pieces and that I definitely think was more successful in detailing all the princesses was Juiliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing. However, this book definitely has the prettier cover.
I know I complained about Azalea’s goodness earlier, but I guess this goodness also worked as a positive impact on the piece as a whole because it did make the book seem more like a classic fairy tale then say, Levine’s Ella Enchanted, which had more modern views about women and cultures. This book really felt like it could have been told along a campfire a century or so ago.
All in all, I give it an 8/10. Once I came to like the main character more, it read rather quickly. I especially recommend it to anyone interested in ballroom dancing and anyone in need of a little fairy tale magic.