Princess of the Midnight Ball

Princess of the Midnight BallSomewhere 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:

Other reviews:
Lili’s Reflections
The Dead Authors’ Club and More
Bird on a Pencil
Anyone else?

Buy it here: Princess of the Midnight Ball

19 thoughts on “Princess of the Midnight Ball

  1. I loved how traditionally fairy taleish this book felt. It wasn’t two-sided characters like traditional tales (I’m not sure the original even had any names), but everything is just so…simple, in all the right ways.

    And I second Lynn E. O’Connacht on Wildwood Dancing, I thought it was a really nice retelling (and it may also have The Frog Prince incorporated as well, I can’t remember). I really like how Marillier might start with a fairy tale (The Six Swans was the basis for Daughter of the Forest which started her Sevenwaters series and the other books aren’t based on standard fairy tales to my knowledge)

    1. This was a really nice balance of expanding the original, while keeping some of the spirit. 🙂 Wildwood Dancing is one of my absolute favorites (and yes, the Frog Prince is incorporated!) Marillier does have a nice way of taking a seed from a fairy tale, and then going into entirely new areas. I’m reading the 5th Sevenwaters book right now!

  2. This sounds like a really good read! This is one of those reasons why I love the Once Upon a Time Challenge because it ALWAYS adds to my TBR list. I’m definitely going to look for this one at the library because it sounds great. Great review 🙂

  3. I really enjoy fairy tales retold and I admit that the 12 Dancing Princesses is a favourite story. I think it would have been a crazy retelling if the author had tried to give too much detail on all 12 – well either crazy or very long so I’m glad that this doesn’t fall into that trap.
    Lynn 😀

    1. I’m not sure I’ve read a version that gets too much detail on all twelve…mostly books seem to stumble by having very little detail on the princesses, yet constantly having them around as very bland/vague characters. A very long (within reason) book might actually be an interesting angle…although you’re right that it could easily get pretty crazy!

  4. dianem57

    It’s really good that the author doesn’t delve into so much detail for all twelve princesses. I find books with too many prominent characters very hard to follow. I have to keep flipping back to earlier descriptions of them to keep straight who is who. That spoils the flow of the story. This book seems to have hit the right balance of character development to make it work.

      1. Oooooooh…. Lots of retellings! I’d heard of about… half of them, but not the others. “Princess of the Midnight Ball” is one of the retellings I’ve had my eye on for some time now, so it’s lovely to get your review on it! I’m happy to hear you think the author pulled off the large cast as that’s always a concern when you’re picking up a book that you KNOW is going to have one. *rambling*

        1. The funny thing is, I didn’t plan most of the retellings. I just kept reading things, and at some point realized I’d read a LOT for this one fairy tale. 😉 And then I started seeking a few more out…

          The big cast is definitely a hazard of this story, and something a lot of authors stumble with. Midnight Ball probably does best with twelve, and Wildwood Dancing solves the problem by reducing the sisters to five.

          Feel free to ramble! 🙂

          1. Hee! Have a short story noir detective retelling in case you’re interested in more retellings? I spent hours tracking that down. >> Turns out I couldn’t find it because I was looking in the wrong place. I could’ve sworn it’d been in one of the traditionally published things I’d read so far. >>

            It doesn’t handle the numbers quite as gracefully as either of the ones you mention (I loved Wildwood Dancing. ❤ I think it was my first book by Marillier too.) But I thought it was worth sharing. ^-^ It might actually be quite interesting to see a retelling that gives all twelve sisters a voice, but it'd be a very tricky tale to write. (No, I haven't thought about doing just that. Not at all. Though I would if I had the first clue how to pull it off. It's a fun fairytale. ^-^)

            1. Thanks! I’m always interested in more retellings, so I’ll check this out!

              One way to give all twelve princesses her moment might be to have each one narrate one chapter…I’ve seen some large ensemble casts succeed that way. Though it could be frustrating too, to get invested in one girl than switch the POV away. Such an intriguing tale!

              1. Welcome! I hope you’ll enjoy it whenever you get around to it! I should really go over the list of AO3-posted fairytale retellings I read and post links in honour of OuaT7. I read so many good stories.

                That’s what I was thinking! XD You’d (general-you!) still have to find a way to divide up the narrative into twelve (thirteen if you wanted to give the soldier a pov) portions, though. Given that you’ve got about twelve povs to work with, you could probably do some pretty interesting things with the narratives to reflect the importance of dancing to the tale as a whole too… *backs away from it*

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