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
To improve relations with their neighboring kingdoms, the twelve dancing princesses reluctantly agree to a royal exchange program. Shipped off to Breton, Princess Poppy is less than pleased to be separated from her twin, Daisy, and the rest of her sisters. The exchange was designed to improve relations, including potential marriages.
Things aren’t quite so bad as expected, and Poppy meets some agreeable friends including the handsome Prince Christian. Of course things can’t always go smoothly. Enter Eleanor, a servant with a distinguished and tragic background who can’t seem to do anything right. Wishing for an escape from her recent drudgery, Eleanor makes a deal that is too good to be true.
This is a Cinderella story, and balls, ashes, and magic abound. Poppy has learned a few tricks from her brother-in-law Galen, but can her knitting be enough to save her friends – and Prince Christian?
I read this book first, and I have to say normally I love a good Cinderella story. I was definitely less enthused about this one, because I REALLY didn’t like Eleanor. She came across as selfish, greedy, and naive, which is unfortunate since her lot in life was clearly unfair. I should really have disliked the nasty “fairy godmother” but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at how easily Eleanor fell for her trap. It is funny, since in other versions of Cinderella there is no question that it is a good fairy godmother who helps Cinderella out!
Luckily, I did like Poppy. She was fiery and smart, but still showed weakness and uncertainty which made her seem more of a well-rounded character than Eleanor. I appreciated that she could shoot and knit, and didn’t immediately fall head-over-heels for a handsome face.
I felt like the story was a bit too contrived. The rational / motivation behind the “evil” doings of the fairy godmother character was thin, and I didn’t buy it. When that essential glue to the tale proved weak, I unfortunately felt like the whole story didn’t come together as it should have.
It was still a very decent read, however, and maybe I’ll give it another chance and see if the motivations could convince me in future.
Princess of Glass = 3.5 / 5
Next up: Princess of the Silver Woods
Okay, so #3: Princess of the Silver Woods is, not surprisingly given the cover, a nod to Little Red Riding Hood. It also nods to Robin Hood, which is a fun pairing.
Petunia is the youngest of the twelve dancing princesses. It has been a few years since the curse was broken, and Petunia is nearly grown-up. On her way to visit an elderly friend in Westfalin, Petunia encounters some of the “wolves” of the forest: the notorious bandits who have been preying on the wealthy. Oliver, one of these bandits, turns out to be a bandit earl of surprising moral decency, despite his thieving ways.
Although Galen “solved” the curse in book one, the menace of King Under Stone returns, and the princesses discover that they are not yet free after all.
Petunia, in danger of just being “the youngest” does show a distinct personality and takes a bit after Poppy in her fiery nature. Unfortunately, Petunia doesn’t seem all that bright and makes some kind of dumb moves throughout the story.
Oliver (the “Robin Hood” of the story) is a interesting guy, but he seems to make a few decisions and then let the action sort of pull him along for the story without any major moves on his part.
There are so many princesses it is hard to keep them all straight, and they end up being identified by one or two particular traits. I guess that happens in the first book too, but here I felt like it was even more pressing.
I didn’t feel like this was a stand-alone book, but really needed the support of Princess of the Midnight Ballto make sense. Dredging up the same problems as the first, the story didn’t feel new (aside from the added Red Riding Hood and Robin Hood elements). Things were predictable and the solutions too convenient (even though I ultimately liked the ending).
It left me feeling good, despite the plot difficulties.
Princess of the Silver Woods =3.5/5