Somewhere in the last couple of years, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” (or, “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces”) became one of my favorite fairy tales. I’ve read many retellings, and even wrote one for NaNoWriMo 2011. For the Once Upon a Time reading experience this year, I decided to go back and re-read one of the first retellings I encountered, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George.
This is a lovely, magical retelling that evades the typical pitfalls of the story, while shining mostly for its two lead characters. The point of view is split between Galen, a young soldier just returning from a long war and taking up a job as under-gardener at the palace; and Rose, the oldest princess, trying to hold her sisters together as they suffer through a curse, evading questions about their mysteriously worn-out slippers.
Rose and Galen both have a way of looking harmless, with unexpected depth and strength beneath. Rose is a pale, beautiful princess–but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have intelligence and strength of will. Galen is a gardener who spends his spare time knitting–which proves to be a surprisingly valuable skill. When I think about it, the two of them don’t spend much time together. But I don’t really think about it when I’m reading the book, and this is a rare occasion when I find myself completely buying into a very cute romance, even when the characters don’t really have much opportunity to get to know each other.
The other eleven princesses largely run together, which tends to happen quite a bit in these retellings. It actually worked rather well in this one, though, I think because George hit a very nice balance of giving me just enough information, while not making me feel like I should be knowing/remembering more. I’m not sure that makes sense…but for example, on the princesses’ ages: Rose and Lily are the two oldest, at eighteen and seventeen. Petunia and Pansy are the youngest, seven and six. The other eight exist in some vague space in between, and while I don’t know precisely how old they are, I also never felt like I needed to know.
Similarly, I had a slight sense of the personalities of roughly half the princesses, and that seemed to be enough. George has a nice way of never asking the reader to remember the princesses’ personalities, because it’s self-evident whenever that particular princess is referenced. Poppy is the boisterous one, and it was no effort to remember that because she’s always being boisterous whenever we see her.
For the most part this is a very light retelling, though there are a few moments of genuine creepiness. It follows pretty close to the original fairy tale, and comes up with some very nice explanations and backstories, filling in the empty spaces in the Brothers Grimm’s much shorter tale. Some retellings move farther away from the original and it works…but others have completely floundered in the process. This one didn’t try to go too far, and succeeded very well within its own scope.
I remembered this as one of the best of the retellings I’ve read, though it was hard to judge since I read it before most of the others. Happily, I was right!
Author’s Site: http://jessicadaygeorge.com/
Buy it here: Princess of the Midnight Ball