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Friday, July 26, 2013

A delightful fairy tale retelling that takes the familiar story of the twelve dancing princesses and fleshes it out-- adding completely plausible reasons for just about every aspect of the story: why the princesses dance every night, whey they can't tell anyone, and even why there are twelve of them. It even adds to the mundane aspects of what life must be like if you had to go dance every night-- what if you get sick (as the oldest, Rose, does) but still had to go dance every night? And with twelve sisters, the youngest are quite young - one dancing since she could walk, and hates balls because she has had to dance every night.

In this version, Galen Werner is a young man coming home from the 12-year war between Westfalia and Analousia. His parents were both involved with the war, so he basically grew up there. He comes home to Bruch, the capital of Westfalia, where he works as a gardener with his uncle for the king. --While he's there, he learns of the princesses' plight and watches as various princes come to solve the mystery and claim the kingdom as their prize. Eventually, when they all fail and the kingdom is under religious interdict and accusations of witchcraft, Galen acts-- not for the kingdom, or even to claim a bride (he's fallen in love with Rose, but doesn't presume to deserve a princess), but simple to save the girls from a curse.

In this version of the story, the girls are cursed because of their dead mother, who made a deal with the devil-- or rather, the King Under Stone, a sort of bogey man from stories, once a magician so powerful and evil that he was imprisoned by twelve good magicians, and is no longer quite human. Queen Maude made a deal with him for children (not expecting twelve or wanting all girls), and then a second deal for Westfalia to win the war (not expecting it would take twelve years). She danced for the King Under Stone in payment, but every time she missed a night he made it more frequent. When Galen follows the girls in his invisible cloak, he sees that the king feeds off the vitality and energy in the dancing. What is more, this is all part of a very long-term plan for his escape: twelve brides for his own twelve half-human sons, and then a next generation of children who will be able to enter the day light world.

Some sections of the story are told focussing on Galen's or Rose's perspective in the third person-- and those familiar moments when she hears a step or branch break in the under world are still here-- but there is a different tone of hope and fearfulness, because Rose is afraid Galen will be killed like all the other princes, but hopeful he might actually be able to help them.

There is still a lesson of humility and unselfishness in the story-- Galen helps an old woman he meets on his trek to Bruch, sharing what little food he has and giving her a scarf, and in return she gives him the invisibility cloak and some yarn. Later, he listens to the old gardener Walter about how to stay immune to the spells (Walter tried to help some of the princes, but they were too proud to listen to a mere gardener). In addition, Galen is a knitter-- he learned to knit his own socks and scarves during the war, and still finds comfort in knitting-- a swan shawl for Rose from the magical, protective white yarn the old woman gave him, and later an iron chain from the magical black yarn that was meant to bind. It's a delightful touch of flavor that becomes important to the plot. At the end of the book, the author includes patterns for the two significant items Galen knits during the story, which I found rather lovely.

Title:Princess of the Midnight Ball
Author:Jessica Day George
Date published:2009
Genre:young adult fantasy
Number of pages:272
Notes:read a library ebook


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