Princess of the Midnight Ball
Jessica Day George
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.
I fell head over heels in love with George's Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, so when I saw she was doing a retelling of one of my absolute childhood favorites, the 12 Dancing Princesses, my interest was piqued, to say the least. And when I saw the gorgeous cover attached to the story...do I really need to tell you I bought it?
Though I don't love it quite as hardcore as I do Sun and Moon, this one's a definite keeper. The 12 Dancing Princesses can be a tricky tale to retell because there's just such a huge cast of characters. The decision has to be made whether to cut some of the sisters (as did Juliet Marillier in the fantastic Wildwood Dancing) or try to find a way to differentiate them. George went the latter route, and did an admirable job. Not only did I never have a problem keeping the sisters straight, but she did a fairly good job of making them distinct from one another. Each is named after a flower (which is not an uncommon tack to take in this tale), which could have added to the confustion, but didn't, and for the most part, each seemed like their own person with fairly consistent personalities. It was pleasant to read something with such a large cast and not be constantly going, Who?
One thing I really have to say for George is that she does a consistently damn fine job of staying very faithful to a tale while fleshing it out and bringing it to life beautifully. One of the reasons that this story captured and held my heart from a very early age was the whole mysterious and intriguing underworld the sisters went to every night. I loved how George brought the two worlds, above and below, to life and tied them together. There was this background, this history and mythology to it that made it rich and her own, while still keeping it the world of my childhood. This extended to the above-ground world, too, which felt authentic and interesting.
But the fact is, a story like this hinges on the romance and the characters - the humble soldier who will win the day, and the princess who will win his heart. This does not disappoint. I LOVED Galen and Rose. I mean, they're not the lass or the bear, but I still loved them quite a bit. Their courtship was slow and cautious and made sense given the situation. There was this quiet flirtatiousness to it that was just so cute I wanted to smoosh them together. [And on a side note, I frakking love that Galen knits. Seriously. I know some people are like, "wtf? he knits?" but I really liked that and it made perfect since, as it historically has been very common not only for soldiers to know how to knit, but men in general.]
I could have wished to dig a little deeper into the magic all around (the magic Galen does, which was interesting, and I wanted to know more; the magic that Walter does, which was mysterious - part of me liked that it was left unexplained, but part of me still wondered...). This one also took me a little longer to connect to, but all in all, I'd recommend it fairly highly. It's sweet and wholesome* and completely enjoyable.
*I have been using 'wholesome' way too much lately. If you asked me to describe the types of books I read (or asked one of my friends to...), I never would have thought "wholesome" would make it onto the list...