Historical fantasy retelling of the fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“
Content warning: sexual harassment, controlling behaviour
After a very heavy audiobook and a bit of a hard time, I was in the market for a book that I knew would be heartfelt, enjoyable and have a (hopefully) happy ending and Juliet Marillier never disappoints.
“Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier is a historical fantasy novel and a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses“. The story is about Jena, the second of five sisters who live an idyllic life in Transylvania and secretly visit another realm every full moon and dance all night with members of the magical court there. When their father goes away to recover from an illness, the older sisters are left in charge of the household and the family business under the supervision of their father’s cousin. Initially, things go well and level-headed Jena has things under control, even if people occasionally look at her a little askance with her pet frog Gogu. However, after tragedy hits, Jena finds that things are not going so well and finds it harder and hard to resist her second cousin Cezar’s attempts to take control of the situation. In her efforts to try to get things back on track, things get even worse and soon her eldest sister, the Other Kingdom and even Gogu are at risk.
This was a sweet, enjoyable book that took the famous setting of “Dracula” and reimagined it as a beautiful, magical forest setting. I really enjoyed the visits to the Other Kingdom and the warmth of the characters the sisters meet there. Jena was a very relatable character, eager to take on adult responsibilities but struggling to let go of the naiveté of her childhood. The onslaught of Cezar’s controlling behaviour was done really well, and Marillier captured the nuance of how small transgressions can soon turn into abusive behaviour. The prejudice expressed against the Night People provided an interesting overlay to the story.
Although this book was very enjoyable and was similar in style to many of Marillier’s other lovely stories, I felt that it was coded slightly younger than some of her other books I have read. There were some reveals that didn’t feel as surprising to me as in previous books, and I wasn’t sure if that was because the audience was intended to be a bit younger or not.
A sweet story full of heart that brought a traditional fairytale to life.