Princess of the Midnight Ball

princessmidnightball By Jessica Day George [LibraryThingAmazon]

Every night, the twelve princesses of Westfalin escape from their locked rooms and go dancing, and none of them will – or can – say where they dance. For his part, with the war over young soldier Galen is happy to work as a simple under-gardener in the palace. But as the lovely Princess Rose and her sisters grow more exhausted and despairing, and the country begins to tear itself apart, Galen must use all of his wits and courage to untangle the mystery of the princesses’ enchantment – and just possibly win the hand of Princess Rose himself.

I enjoyed the first book I read by George well enough, and I always like retellings of fairy tales – not to mention “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is one of my particular favorites – so naturally I picked this one up. And, well, I commend myself on a wise choice. I mentioned in my review of Dragon Slippers that it was George’s first published book, and it shows; with Midnight Ball her prose has definitely improved in this one, with stronger transitions, and she bothered to give her characters motives and beliefs this time around, which always helps.

I thought the mythology of the book was really well constructed. I liked the setting – a very thinly-disguised early-nineteenth-century Germany, where the original story hails from. Some of the other country names were kind of cheesy (Hispania? Bretona? La Belge? Whatever could those possibly be?), but it was nice to see a high fantasy story with pistols instead of the usual swords-and-hose setting. Plus, the placement in Europe gave George a chance to play with international relations in a way that rang really true, and to bring in the politics of Catholicism and the papacy when the archbishop arrives from Roma (goodness, what country is that?) to excommunicate the princesses for witchcraft, a deeply-felt punishment.

I also thought George did a nice job translating the sort of random events that happen in a fairy tale to a logical modern novel. She gives the princesses a reason to go dancing and a reason they can’t stop, she gives Galen a reason to get involved, and she even ties in the old woman who gives him the invisibility cloak in the beginning of the story, which was a totally contextless happenstance in the fairy tale. The mythology she constructs around the evil King Under Stone feels like real mythology, and the various magic tricks and tips dropped through the book are pulled from real peasant traditions and come off very naturally.

Galen himself is a serviceable hero; nothing about him jumped out at me as extraordinary, but he’s likeable enough. The princesses are a slightly thornier matter. George was sort of hampered by her subject matter here, since twelve is really too large a number to work with, if you want to give them all personalities that the reader will remember. She didn’t help her case by naming them all after flowers. Rose, the oldest and the secondary lead after Galen, is easy enough to remember, but the rest tended to blend together, so that even when I knew that one was pious and one was vain, I couldn’t remember their names. There’s a pronunciation guide in the back, but I think the book would have been better suited by a guide to the princesses.

Moreover…well. Some time ago I reviewed the Twice Upon a Time books by Wendy Mass, and said: “I get that Prince Charming gets short shrift in the ‘originals’…but I have never felt badly enough for him that I wanted to give him fifty percent of the story. That is, fairy tales being what they are, I’m not quite sold on the idea of a revisionist fairy tale that doesn’t devote itself to giving the heroine more.” I didn’t like the idea of splitting the central role of the story between Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty and their respective princes; I wanted the heroine to remain the protagonist.

Now, in “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” the soldier was always the protagonist, but it seems like George made an effort to make Rose more of a central, active figure as well, so it’s a shame that…well, she’s kind of not. I mean, the princesses have no agency. They are forced to dance because of a bargain their late mother made, they are completely incapable of freeing themselves from the spell, and even in the (sadly lackluster) climax, Galen does pretty much all of the work. The only plan Rose comes up with is a bad one that they wind up stopping halfway through. At least in the original story, the princesses wanted to dance, and got rid of the guards watching them themselves. Here the princesses just drift aimlessly through the plot. It wasn’t quite enough to put me off the book, but I wish they’d had more to do.

Still, all in all Princess of the Midnight Ball was an enjoyable, well-constructed read. Four cupcakes.

    Tags:

    4 Responses to “Princess of the Midnight Ball”

    1. Gillian says:

      Read Wildwood Dancing for another and completely different retelling. The princesses are the leads, and some of them are nicely filled in versus George’s. However, I liked George’s book better, I think just style-wise.

    2. Alix says:

      Huh.

      12 Dancing Princess was always my favorite fairy tale as a kid. I feel like rereading it now, if only because from what I remember, the princesses did have agency. A lot of it. Mind, they didn’t really do anything good with it. Mainly just drugged a lot of men for no apparent reason. And as far as I can recall the princesses chose to dance. Or at least, there was never any implication that they didn’t choose to dance. The princes down below were enchanted, but the princess always seemed free. They were also always such brats. (I think that’s why I liked them.)

      It’s interesting that the agency there is taken away; given that the eldest princess could make such an interesting hero. In the story she’s in change and she’s very competent at what she does (even if that’s mostly drugging innocent young men). It seems like bending her character into a girl who could save the day wouldn’t be a huge stretch. Still, I think at some point I will pick up this book.

    3. Jennie says:

      Have you read Weyn’s Night Dance? It’s an interesting blend of Twelve Dancing Princesses and King Arthur.

      Also, I must second Wildwood Dancing.

    4. Anastacia says:

      There’s going to be another book by this author, called Princess of Glass, and I’m pretty sure it’s a sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball. It’s about Princess Poppy, and it’s a retelling of-obviously–Cinderella. http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Glass-Jessica-Day-George/dp/1599904780/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273984012&sr=8-1
      When I was reading this book, I had a whole lot of trouble keeping track of the different princesses. I have no idea how George managed to keep them straight in her head when she was writing this! I liked the parts with the yarn, though, because it was just so magical and amazing and just the kind of thing I’d like. (Yeah. That made sense in my head.)

    Leave a Reply