Entwined: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Entwined by Heather DixonIn a tiny kingdom there were twelve princesses. On the night of the smallest princess’ birth, their hearts were broken and their mother taken too soon. After years of dancing and laughter, their castle is thrust into mourning–the once happy home darkened by black clothes and their father’s grief.

One day the princesses found a magical land of silver and music. A mysterious and dashing stranger known only as Keeper presides over this strange landscape where the girls can dance every night until the slippers on their feet wear thin.

But nothing lasts forever and, when magic is involved, nothing is as it seems in Entwined (2011) by Heather Dixon.

Entwined is essentially a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” which was originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.* In this version the princesses are more proactive. The actual discovery of where the princesses dance also takes a slightly less prominent role to make way for the more sinister plot involving Keeper and his own agenda.

This is a fun book ideal for anyone who enjoys reading about princesses and castles. Azalea, the eldest, is an endearing heroine as are her sisters. While Bramble’s blunt nature and rash temper can wear thin the girls are all, really, very charming characters. Each princess is named after a flower (alphabetical order no less) which actually works quite well with the story and makes for a cute touch. With so many characters some do get lost in the shuffle or boil down to broad characterizations but again with so many characters at the center of a story that might be inevitable.

The story is original but by the end a lot of things are happening to Azalea instead of her being proactive. The lack of communication between the sisters toward the end of the story also felt unconvincing when they all appeared in every scene. (And some aspects of the love story angle felt thin.)

Dixon’s world building is solid. The castle with its dingy appearance and lackluster furnishings comes to life with her descriptions. The history behind the castle and the monarchy is well-presented and even the country’s relationship with other nations is mentioned although not in great detail. As with the characters I had this nagging feeling that while I loved what was on the page, I also wanted more.

One of the things I really liked about this story was the focus on family. As much as the dancing is a part of the story this is really a book about a father reconnecting with his daughters and a family moving on after a terrible loss. Being able to get that kind of book wrapped up in a fantasy makes this book something special. Entwined is an entertaining fantasy that will draw readers in with a familiar premise only to deliver a story that is ultimately surprising and appealing.

*WARNING: These might constitute SPOILERS but read on if you want to know what elements Dixon keeps from the original story. Entwined features 12 princesses, a magic land of silver, and the girls do dance until their shoes wear out. They are not locked in each night. The men who try to solve the riddle are not beheaded. While the hero who solves the riddle is a soldier, he is not old (no one in this story is very old) but he does have an invisibility cloak of sorts. Except  for the boats and princes to escort the girls across a lake (a trope found in Wildwood Dancing) this is a very faithful retelling.
loved everything but the story flagged toward the end–would have liked az to be stronger/more proactive. lack of communication also not convincing between the sisters

Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Exclusive Bonus Content: I have a rule that I read anything and everything related to “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” but I was also drawn to this book because of its cover which I think is really interesting. (The vines also appear at the beginning of each chapter in the book.) My mom, on the other hand, thought the girl looked like she crawled out of a swamp–fair enough. While reading this book I was reminded a lot of Wildwood Dancing (another book with a great cover)–I’d definitely recommend reading both if you consider reading one as  they provide nice counter-points to each other with different versions of the same fairy tale.

Wildwood Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet MarillierIn the wilds of Transylvania, set on a high spur of rock next to the Wildwood, rests a castle named Piscul Dracului. The castle itself is unexceptional, old and crumbling as it is. Looking at it, you would never know it hides a portal to the Other Kingdom.

Each full moon five sisters travel through the portal into a magical glade where they dance with creatures rarely seen outside of fairy tales–fairies, dwarves, trolls and other creatures only whispered about back home.

For nine years of full moons, the sisters have gone dancing in the Other Kingdom.

Until now, the secret of the portal has been safe in Wildwood Dancing (2007) by Juliet Marillier.

Part retelling of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses; part reinterpretation of classic vampire lore, Wildwood Dancing is an eerie, atmospheric story of forbidden love, precious gifts, and otherworldly creatures.

Marillier’s writing is rich and vivid, immediately transporting readers to the world of Jena (the narrator) and her sisters. Although dense with foreign terms (defined in a glossary at the end of the book) and unusual names (explained in a pronunciation guide at the end of the book), this story is sure to quickly enchant readers looking for a classic fantasy story with an original twist.

All of the sisters are distinct and well-developed characters who bring their own charms to the story. Although the eldest, Tati, grew tiresome as a lovesick heroine, she provided a good counterpoint to sensible Jena who prefers the company of her enchanted frog Gogu to the prospect of marriage.

Wildwood Dancing is largely a story about characters rather than events. Marillier takes her time getting to the crux of the story, using the beginning of the book to establish the setting and the characters, only to ultimately create a powerhouse, page turning, ending with unlikely twists and unexpected consequences for all of the sisters.

The story of Jena’s younger sister Paula continues in Cybele’s Secret, a companion to Wildwood Dancing.

Possible Pairings: The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Exclusive Bonus Content: The cover illustration is my Kinuko Y. Craft–one of my favorite illustrators of all time. I loved the cover immediately but when I first started the book I wondered if it was really in keeping with the often dark tone of the book and the sparse, atmospheric prose. I have since decided it works perfectly. If you look really closely you can find a plethora of important elements and motifs to the story. And while the illustration might not be in keeping with Jena’s image of herself, I think it might be exactly how other people see her.

Unrelated: This review was really, really hard to write. I feel like it doesn’t do the book justice or go very far to explain how great it was. But it was really good and a must read.