Fairytales are the stuff of every girls’ dreams. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel (um…), we all know the stories. We love them, or I do at the very least. So when I find any retellings of some of my old favorites, I snatch them up and read them immediately. You may recall that I did a review over The Fairy Godmother and The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey. Those are both reworked tales. Over break I read the two in her series I hadn’t read yet: One Good Knight and The Snow Queen. Both were excellent, albeit a little cliche (what can you expect?). However, I found a new author who put a twist on fairytales. Jessica Day George astounded me with Princess of the Midnight Ball. It is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.
The only knowledge I ever really had of this tale was what I remember from the Barbie movie (my sisters were obsessed with those movies, I did not watch it of my own accord). In that version they gain an evil stepmother who forbids them to dance and escape from her into this beautiful world. The stepmother tries to kill the king and confine them to their world, so she can rule. Their personal cobbler senses trouble and rushes to the rescue! He and Barbie live happily ever after. Ms George’s tale is a bit darker than Barbie and is quite a bit more intricate.
The tale starts out with the King Under Stone making a bargain with a young woman, to end the war with her country as the winning side. The preface is the only part of the story told from the villain’s point of view and it fascinates me. This evil king was once human, but no longer is and is clearly a conniving evil once-a-man. He adds another couple of years onto her really long debt (which involves her dancing for him, whenever he calls for her). As she leaves it is revealed that she is pregnant with her fifth child and that he is planning on her daughters marrying his sons.
From there the story gets kind of boring. We meet Galen, who knits (which is kind of weird). He is traveling back from the war, which they won, but only after twelve years of fighting. He helps an old woman who gives him awesome magic yarn and…an invisibility cloak! You never know when one of those might come in handy (as Harry Potter). He is reunited with his only family, his aunt and uncle, and starts to work in the family business: gardening. His uncle is head gardener to the king, which is how Galen meets Rose, the eldest princess.
All the princesses are named after different flowers: Rose, Lily, Jonquil, Poppy (my favorite), Daisy, Hyacinth, Orchid, Lilac, Petunia, Pansy, Violet, and Iris. They are forced to dance with the King Under Stone’s sons every third night of the week, wearing out their dancing shoes. Their father, wanting to solve this mystery once and for all, declares that whoever can solve the mystery receives whichever daughter he prefers in marriage. Many princes come and none figure out the mystery. All meet their end in tragic, “accidental” deaths. Galen decides to have a go and with the help of a fellow gardener, his invisibility cloak and his awesome knitting talent he manages to save them all. Hooray!
I think my favorite scene is when the girls decide not to go and their princes come up to get them. The way she described the princes reminded me of Tolkien’s ringwraiths. I could just see the Nazgul screeching outside their window, dying to dance in my head. It was an amusing image.
With the exception of the first couple of chapters, which follow Galen’s boring journey home, the book was well-written. I loved the way she mixed humor into the gravity of the situation. My favorite character was Poppy. She’s strong, confident and witty. She rags on her older sister for liking the gardener and teases everyone. My kinda girl. She is also the protagonist in Jessica Day George’s sequel: Princess of Glass, which is on my top three favorite retellings of Cinderella. That’ll be my next review ;).