If, like me, you’ve had Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing buried deep in your To Be Read pile, listen up:
“Get it outta there and start reading!”
Inspired by Squeaky Books’ Twisted Fairy Tale Challenge, I just finished Wildwood Dancing and boy was it a delight from beginning to end. Marillier’s story is based on the fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses. If this story is unknown to you, best pick up some version to read before you start Marillier’s book, as I think the reading experience is richer if you know the original tale. In 2 sentences, a summary: 12 princesses are locked in their chamber every night, but they steal away to dance in a magical realm. No one can figure out their secret until a humble gardener finds a way to follow them, and wins the heart of the youngest princess and the blessing of the king. Marillier has taken this story and made it very much her own. She sets the novel in Romania, on an estate called Piscul Dracului, where 5 sisters live with their ailing father. Every full moon, the sisters pass through a portal in their bedroom to a Dancing Glade in the Other Kingdom, a fairy land that is mysterious, beautiful and slightly menacing. Their monthly adventures are more or less secret, and remain so, for a time. When their father’s illness forces him to leave Piscul Dracului for a milder climate, they are left to care for the estate under the watchful eye of their cousin, Cezar, who becomes an ever more domineering and power-hungry presence. 16-year old Jenica is the heroine of the story, as she soon becomes the one person upon whom the sisters’ future in the Other Kingdom and their own world, depends. Toss in Jena’s unusual froggy companion, Gogu, and the complicating fact that Tatiana, the eldest sister, has fallen in love with a mysterious and potentially dangerous young man from the Other Kingdom, and you’ve got plenty to keep the pages turning.
In the hands of a lesser author, there might be too much on the go in this novel. There are 2 settings, lots of characters to flesh out, and at least 3 interwoven story lines at play. Marillier succeeds quite well in all of these areas. I liked that the main characters were complex. Even Cezar, selfish and brutish as he is, is not wholly unsympathetic. Jenica is very much coming of age. She makes mistakes, doesn’t always think things through, and has to figure out that life is often about sacrifice. My only quibble: the younger sisters were more in the background, and could have been better developed, which would have made the sisterly relationship more powerful.
This is a book I wish all fans of Stephanie Meyer’s series – Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse – would pick up, because it has everything those books have (thwarted love affairs, dark magic, deep secrets) without all of that over-the-top, heavy-breathing ,”I cannot live without your icy lips pressed against mine” business. It’s beautifully crafted, with well-drawn characters so that you never feel stuck inside of a good vs. evil fairy tale struggle. I imagine that readers who enjoy Shannon Hale’s writing will find Wildwood Dancing entirely yummy. And, good news! Juliet Marillier has a second book coming in September, involving Paula, the brainiest of the Wildwood girls. Visit Juliet Marillier.com for a hint of what’s to come.
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