Book Review: Princess series, by Jessica Day George

March 21, 2011 at 9:17 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , )

Fairy tales have been told and retold, adapted to different places and times, even different worlds, but every now and then, we’re lucky enough to stumble upon versions that are truly fantastic, that take the original fairy tale, respect it in every eay, and yet somehow manage to make it their own. Jessica Day George‘s Princess series falls into this category.

In Princess of the Midnight Ball, we’re introduced to a young soldier named Galen Werner, a bit adrift after the war that has defined his life finally ends. In search of work, he ventures to the capital of Westfalin, where his uncle is the head gardener of the extravagant Queen’s Garden. It seems, however, that all is not well within the palace. Every night, despite being locked into their rooms, the twelve princesses emerge in the morning with their dancing slippers worn straight through. The king’s offer to marry one of his daughters to whoever solves the mystery brings princes in from all across the Ionian continent. Then the deaths begin, and Galen finds himself pitted against an ancient magic to protect the princesses he serves and, in one case, loves.

In its sequel, Princess of Glass, ties between the Ionian countries have been strained by the deaths of so many princes, even after the mystery has been solved and Westfalin formally absolved of any guilt in the deaths. To foster accord and peace, a grand exchange of royal children is planned to arrange fresh marriages, friendships, and treaties. Poppy, sarcastic and sharp with less tact and more unladylike habits than her father could wish, is sent to Breton to stay with her mother’s cousins. Though she loathes dancing after the nightly terror of dancing for the King Under Stone, she may have to take to the dance floor to help solve the mystery of a hapless maid with beautiful glass slippers and the dark spells that make every male fall in love with her.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses has always been one of my favorite stories, and Cinderella of course is a classic, but Jessica Day George makes these stories uniquely hers. The details of life in this more or less Renaissance Europe are beautiful and the characters very real. Though we all know basically how the stories end, we’re still holding our breaths to make sure everything will turn out right for the characters we’ve come to love and cheer for.

Different version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses have different reasons for why the princesses dance all night every night. In some, they’re under a spell to make them cold and indifferent. In some, they’re simply selfish. In others, there’s a wager, in others it’s all fun and games, and in yet others it’s a punishment. I love that in this version, they’re paying the debt of someone else’s bad bargain. They feel each new burden most keenly, but their strength in supporting each other, in seeing the debt paid, is inspiring. The bruise-like colors of the world of King Under Stone are haunting, withering, so it’s a joy to be able to see the brighter pockets- like bouquets of flowers with knitted ties.

And the part of me that was in heaven working in a craft store keeps giggling and clapping her hands at how essential knitting is to both stories in these re-imaginings- complete with knitting patterns in the back.

In this version of Cinderella, there’s no wicked stepmother or ugly stepsisters. Instead, there’s a darkly benevolent godmother who dotes on a rich girl turned disaster maid and offers her the chance to win the hand of the visiting prince of Danelaw. Glass is so often used as a symbol of clarity and truth; I love that here we get to see its opposite, that it can distort, that we can see only what we wish to see. The physical similarities of the three girls, the way they can stand as reflections of each other, should create confusion, but instead serves to bring their personalities into greater relief.

A little while ago, Jessica Day George hinted on Twitter that she was working on a chapter of Princess of the Something Something and I just about died. Even without knowing which sister (personally I’m hoping for Daisy in Venenzia) or which fairy tale (so many to wonder about!), I got so excited I could hardly see straight. No word on release date- I’d gues 2012 at the earliest- but just the fact that there will be more makes me a very happy kitty.

If you love fairy tales but haven’t read these books, remedy that as soon as you possibly can. They’re available in ebook and hardcover; Princess of the Midnight Ball is also available in paperback, with Princess of Glass to follow this summer. Do not miss out on these wonderful re-imaginings.

Until next time~

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