It was 2011 when my good friend Dr. M. and I discovered that we had both come home from the library with different novel-length retellings of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and started trading titles. I’ve kept reading any of these that come out as I’ve found them, including last year’s The Girls at the Kingfisher Club. So I was delighted when my blogging friend Cheryl at Tales of the Marvelous offered me a review copy of her self-published novel-length retelling of that very story, which as a bonus is a companion to The Wanderers, which I also enjoyed.
The Storyteller and Her Sisters by Cheryl Mahoney. Stonehenge Circle Press, 2014.
Alyra and her eleven sisters have names that all start with the letter “a” – Alyra, Avira, Amina, Atalya, and so on. Inside their private chambers, they drop the “A” and go by Lyra, Vira, Mina, Talya and so on. Outside, they dress identically and keep their names as similar as possible so that no one, including their father, can tell them apart. Because the secret under the castle has so warped their father’s mind that he will do anything to them to make it his own. Once, he followed their mother under the castle to the locked gates and saw the forest of gold and silver trees. Now all he wants is to make that wealth his own, and he will not let his daughters leave the castle until they give it to him. But they have their own reasons for resisting him…
The two big challenges in any “Twelve Dancing Princesses” retelling are giving the princesses a reason for their dancing – convincingly accomplished here – and handling such a large cast of characters. Mahoney deals with this second both by talking about the princesses’ efforts to blend together and by picking a handful of them to focus on. Lyra, our narrator, is the one we first met from an outside point of view in The Wanderers. She’s a storyteller, and fills the narrative with the traditional stories she adapts herself as well the larger narrative. The interfering would-be good fairy from The Wanderers also makes her appearance here in copious showers of sticky glitter, helping to lighten what could have been a grim narrative.
Indeed, even though this is a book with an abusive father about traveling to dark, cursed caverns, The Storyteller and Her Sisters maintains an overall light tone. It feels like a lovely, straightforward fairytale retelling, even as it slips in welcome if nontraditional themes of escaping from abuse and Lyra’s own particular desire to find out who she is without her sisters or her prince. In short, it is delightful. I very much look forward to reading what Mahoney writes next.
Read my interview with Cheryl about this book.