Entwined: A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Heather Dixon EntwinedEntwined by Heather Dixon

Entwined is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” in which the King’s twelve daughters slip away to a mysterious underground realm every night and dance their slippers to ribbons. Heather Dixon chooses to focus mainly on one sister as the heroine: Azalea, the eldest.

At the beginning of the book, the Queen dies giving birth to the twelfth princess. Azalea and her sisters are heartbroken, and to make things worse, their stiff-necked father the King pushes them away in his own grief. He also decrees that the entire family will be in mourning for a year, which means no dancing. Then the girls discover a magical secret passage that leads to a beautiful place where they can dance every night… for a price.

The theme of grief is threaded throughout the novel, and the villain and his realm will send a chill down your spine, but Entwined is not relentlessly grim. Dixon fills the tale with enough warmth, whimsy, and humor that I think it would make a good Disney movie. (The bad-tempered tea set and helpful candleholder are just begging to be animated!)

The greatest strength of Entwined is the characterization. I am not surprised to learn from Goodreads that Dixon comes from a large family, because She. Nails. It. The love… the occasional annoyances… siblings being mistaken for one another… and the noise! Azalea is seldom far from the sound of sisterly chatter. With so many sisters, it’s probably impossible for an author to make them all equally memorable, but Dixon tries valiantly and does succeed in making several of them jump off the page. The King is a fantastically layered character; we can see that he really does love the girls even as it’s also quite clear why they think he doesn’t. Then there are the love interests; each of the three oldest princesses has one. They’re adorable. They’re exactly the kind of love interest I’d like to see more of in young adult fiction. They’re “normal guys” — the only immortal stalker here is the villain — but they’re far from bland; each of these young men has a distinct, quirky personality and is perfect for the girl he loves.

Dixon does a great job of giving the girls an obsession with dance without making them seem frivolous. This isn’t about them wanting to party. Dancing is both a coping mechanism and a discipline for these girls. For Azalea, it’s bound up with the princessly virtues of poise and deportment, and she’s determined to teach her sisters what their mother taught her. (When she was in dance-teacher mode, I kept expecting Azalea to say “Spit-spot” in Julie Andrews’ voice.)

The climax in which the good guys face the villain may actually be the weakest part of the novel. First, Azalea makes a decision that just doesn’t make any sense to me when she knows she still needs to rescue her sisters. Then, there are a couple of dei ex machina and a “lesson” for Azalea that rubbed me the wrong way. It feels like she is asked to shoulder too much of the blame for the estrangement between father and daughters. Yes, she lashed out in pain, but the King made plenty of mistakes too.

These scenes occur close enough to the end that I finished Entwined in a critical mood, but when I awoke the next morning, the aspects I found myself still thinking about were the characterizations and the wonderful relationships between the girls and their father, between the girls and their gentlemen, and among the girls themselves. The more I thought about these, the more the book began to impress me in retrospect. Entwined is worth reading by any lover of retold fairy tales. I recommend it to fans of Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted and Robin McKinley’s Beauty, with the caveat that the villain’s creepiness makes Entwined somewhat scarier than either of the above.

Entwined — (2011) Young adult. Publisher: Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her… beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing… it’s taken away. All of it. The Keeper understands. He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation. Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. But there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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