February 16th, 2012


Book Report: Dancing!

One of my decluttering projects this week was to clean off the top of my dresser, which tends to become a repository for everything -- stuff from my pockets, orphaned socks, books, etc. Now every time I go into my bedroom I do a double-take because it looks so naked. It's like coming home and finding your house ransacked, but in reverse.

I haven't talked about books in a book report sense in ages because I've mostly been reading for work purposes and I'm pretty particular about the books I talk about. But I did read one recently that was really lovely, Entwined by Heather Dixon. It's a young adult book that I think is also adult-friendly. It's based on the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," which didn't occur to me when I was reading it, and it didn't even ring any bells. Then I looked up the Grimm version of that story and it all came back to me. I think putting it in a different setting and fleshing it out made it very much its own story, so I didn't make the fairy tale connection until I looked up some reviews. It still had a very fairy-tale feel, or even a dreamlike quality.

The story focuses on Princess Azalea, the eldest of twelve daughters of the king. Their mother has died in childbirth with princess #12, and the king orders that they go into mourning, wearing nothing but black, covering all the windows, staying indoors and, worst of all for the princesses who live to dance, no dancing. They get caught sneaking into the ballroom to dance a few times. But then they discover a secret passage leading from their bedroom to a magical pavilion, where the mysterious Keeper of the pavilion invites them to dance all they want, every night. Only when things have gone too far do they realize that the Keeper has an agenda, and they're all in danger that Azalea has to find a way out of. As someone who loves ballet and ballroom dancing, I loved all the dance descriptions. There's also something about this book that makes me think of a young adult, female-oriented Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. There is a nice romantic thread that for a while I thought would be the standard modern YA nice boy vs. dark and dangerous guy triangle, but it goes in a different (and very refreshing) direction.

I'm curious about the worldbuilding. It seems to be an alternate history, since although the kingdom names and histories are different from anything in our world, it still feels like Victorian England, and the horses in the royal stables are all named after British literary giants -- Dickens, Milton, Thackeray, etc. They celebrate Christmas and attend mass. There's a character from another kingdom who has to travel by boat to get there, and his speech patterns are very "upper class British twit." You can practically hear the pre-House Hugh Laurie speaking his lines. I kept trying to mentally map this world, and that just tied my brain up in knots. This isn't really a criticism, just my particular brand of geekery coming to the surface because I have to figure out how stuff like this works.

This is also a really lovely book cover that I find rather mesmerizing. A poster of that artwork would go perfectly on my bedroom wall. Anyway, for fans of fairy tales and dancing, it's a very nice read.

I'm also finding myself really wanting to write fleshed-out versions of fairy tales. Not necessarily giving them a twist, unless one occurs to me, but just making the characters into real characters, creating motivations where there aren't any, and doing some world building. Probably adding humor, because I can't help myself. That might be something I'd have to e-publish because I'm not sure publishers would be keen on it. But it would be a fun writing exercise to try, maybe something I could play with in between projects when a story strikes my fancy.