When I was in high school, I spent my hours mowing the lawn dreaming up fairy tales with strong heroines and wrote them for all of the school creative writing assignments. In my first one, Prince Percival (somewhat embarrassed by his name) and the princess whose name I’ve now sadly forgotten fell in love after Prince Percival fell in the fountain.
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George In this retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, young Galen grew up in the army, his father a soldier and his mother a laundress. Now, his parents dead and the war between Westfalin and Andalusia over, the only hint he has is the name of his mother’s sister in the capital city. On the way there, he meets a mysterious old woman who gives him a cloak of invisibility and, when she sees him knitting, special balls of wool, one black, one white. He thinks she’s a little touched, but he takes them to humor her. Once in town, he discovers that his mother’s sister lives in one of the nicest houses in the nicest neighborhood in town. Her husband is the official gardener of the Queen’s Gardens, and Galen, despite his lack of experience, is taken on as an under-gardener. There, he inadvertently startles Princess Rose, the eldest of the twelve flower-named princesses, who falls into the fountain she was gazing at. The resultant illness ends up infecting all of her sisters and, since they can never take a night off from their dancing, lasts for months and becomes quite serious. Nevertheless, Rose and Galen are taken with each other. In typical romance style, the story alternates viewpoints between Galen and Rose. From Rose, we learn that they have inherited this curse from an ill-considered bargain their now-deceased mother made with the King Under Stone. Not only are the princesses being worn out with dancing, but they are being groomed as brides for the twelve sons of the King Under Stone. And they are incapable of telling anyone anything about what is happening to them. Things go from bad to worse when their desperate father declares that any prince who can solve the mystery can marry a princess of his choosing. The princesses are humiliated, but even worse, the failed princes all end up dead soon afterwards, with their grieving countries suspecting witchcraft. Even though he knows he can’t expect the promised reward for himself, Galen goes against his uncle’s wishes to try to help the princesses. Though I felt that his solution was maybe a little simplistic and some of his research was left out, it worked quite well overall. The characters were nicely sketched, the country concrete, the villains suitably creepy, the pacing good, the language lovely. The romance is squeaky clean, just enough to make middle-grade girls sigh. And did I mention that Galen knits frequently? It’s a happy for me. All in all, a very satisfying fairy tale retelling.
[ETA] This is the second book in my series of Twelve Dancing Princesses retellings. The first one was The Princess Curse.