I have been waiting and waiting to read this series by Jessica Day George and finally the books became available through the library. The series consists of three books, and I will review all three in this post. A caveat – I actually read the second and third book before I got to the first, since those were the order my holds came through, but since the first book (Princess of the Midnight Ball) is based on the Story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, it really wasn’t a mystery what had happened.
To the reviews!
First, Princess of the Midnight Ball. This I read last but it goes first in the series so I will start with it.
This is the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, doomed to dance by the King Under Stone. The twelve princesses are each named after flowers, and Rose is the oldest. She must take on the mantle of responsibility, for their mother is long dead and the Princesses are cursed. Every third night, the Princesses must descend through a magic door into the realm of King Under Stone and dance. They dance through illness, exhaustion, and pain, for the deal their mother made with King Under Stone is binding and there are years of debt to repay. It soon becomes clear, however, that King Under Stone has plans for the girls, and hopes to trap them there forever.
Galen is a young soldier returning from the long and expensive war that killed his parents and his only sister. He returns to the only family he has – an aunt and uncle in the city. His uncle, who is the head gardener for the king, takes him on. Working in the royal garden, Galen has a chance to meet the infamous princesses. Despite his rough past, he has a kind heart and gentle soul and it pains him to see the girls (and Rose in particular) suffering.
After the king decrees a contest to see who can solve the mystery, Galen waits as princes come and go, unable to solve the curse. He decides to break the curse, once and for all. With the help of some common herbs, a mysterious invisibility cloak, and some wool, Galen may finally be able to free the princesses.
I have to say, this was my favourite of the three. I had great respect for Galen, a soldier who did not let war coarsen his manners or his heart. He was kind to strangers, listened to his elders, and felt no shame in knitting. I really enjoyed the manly knitting, actually, and thought it was a clever addition to the story. He obviously liked Rose from the start, but his attempts to woo were subtle and sweet.
I loved Rose for her sense of duty. She was in a tough spot, torn between responsibility, trying to protect her sisters, and a secret affection for a mere gardener.
It was a very traditional retelling of the tale, with only a few tweaks. I really enjoyed the added background and context, including the difficulties with the church (who believed witchcraft was afoot) and politics (including the relations between neighboring countries, which became increasingly delicate as time passed).
I appreciate a tale that applauds characters who are clever and polite!
Princess of the Midnight Ball = 4/5
On to number two: Princess of Glass