on April 27 2010
A tale of twelve princesses doomed to dance until dawn…
Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.
Captivating from start to finish, Jessica Day George’s take on the Grimms’ tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses demonstrates yet again her mastery at spinning something entirely fresh out of a story you thought you knew.
I love fairy tale retellings and I can clearly recall picking up Princess of the Midnight Ball a few years ago specifically because I saw it was a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The only other interpretation of this story that I have read was Juliet Marillier’s excellent Wildwood Dancing, which is a personal favourite. That may be the reason I put off reading this one for so long, fearing that it would never live up to the latter.
I am happy to say that I enjoyed this one immensely. The author went about the story in a completely different way and it seemed to be a slightly more faithful adaptation. It read as if it were aimed more at the younger scale of the young adult market but I personally felt that this just added to its charm.
One of the positive memories I have of my dad is him reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me at a young age. This story really recaptured the sense of wonder (and slight fear because, hey, some of those stories were pretty freaky) that I would feel listening to my dad narrate these fantastical tales.
The story is about the twelve cursed princesses (cursed to dance every night in the world below), focusing on the eldest sister Rose (all of the princesses are named after flowers) but I would argue that it is really Galen who is the central character of the story.
Galen is a young man, recently returned home from war, who hears about the plight of the princesses and wants to help them in any way he can. I would normally be annoyed that it is the love interest who seems to be doing most of the rescuing but Galen is a very atypical love interest. He knits for one thing! He also falls for Rose but that is not the primary motivation for him wanting to take action.
Rose isn’t the most interesting of the sisters (that, for me, would be Poppy) but she was still a decent heroine and the attraction between her and Galen (while veering slightly onto the insta-love scale) was believable and sweet. They had a great banter between them and I never felt that the relationship was unequal or one-sided.
Although arguably, Galen being a common solder/turned gardener was well below Rose’s station as princess they interacted as equals and Galen’s previously undiscovered magical abilities and sheer gumption put them on equal footing.
The part of the story that really caught my attention was the curse itself and the underground world where the princesses were forced to toil away dancing every night. The King Under Stone was a genuinely creepy villain and the underground kingdom a very scary place indeed (very much unlike the world portrayed in Wildwood Dancing).
I cared about the characters and although it was difficult keeping all the sisters straight in my head there were a few standouts that I connected with who made it easier for me to relate to their plight. I am happy to see the next book is about Poppy. She was, by far, my favourite princess.
Overall, this was a really great retelling and a wonderful story to get lost in for a few hours. I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it to fantasy fans and those who particularly enjoy fairy tale retellings as I do.