Monday, 25 April 2011

[032] Princess of the Midnight Ball - Jessica Day George

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

What the Back of the Book Has to Say:

"What young girl wouldn't love to dance away her nights in this splendid castle, in the arms of a handsome suitor?"

As the crown princes, Rose is never without a dance partner. She and her eleven sisters are treated to beautiful gowns, slippers, and dances at party after party in their father's palace. But their evenings do not end when the guests return home. Instead, Rose and her sisters must travel deep into the earth to the wicked King Under Stone's palace. There, the girls are cursed to dance each night, even when they grow exhausted or ill.

Many princes have tried-and failed-to break the spell. but then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure. Together they begin to unravel the mystery. To banish the curse, they'll need an invisibility cloak, enchanted silver knitting needles and, of course, true love.

Why I Picked It Up:

I'm a girl. I like retellings of fairy tales. And this seemed like a quick and pleasant read.

What I Think:

I'm not entirely sure why this is but it seems that the 12 Dancing Princesses fairytale is the one that is most often retold in young adult fiction. I recall reading a Beauty and the Beast and a few Cinderallas as a younger girl but I feel like I've read millions of the 12 Princesses. Upon googling a few seconds ago, I have discovered that apparently it is even a Barbie film. That's how widely spread this fairytale goes.

However, despite how often I've read retellings, I'm not sure I had ever really heard the original fairytale when I was a little girl. I just asked my mother if she knew the story and she said no. Perhaps that's why everyone is so eager to retell it: so few people know the original story. 

A brief synopsis of the actual fairytale: In a far away country, there is a kingdom ruled by a fair king with twelve daughters. The ongoing mystery of the kingdom, however, is concerning the princesses. Every morning, all of their dancing shoes are found worn out and no one knows why. The king offers a reward for any man who can figure out the princesses' secret within three days and three nights. If you fail, however, you'll be put to death.

Enter our hero, a young solider with an invisibility cloak given to him by a mysterious old woman. She also warns him not to eat or drink anything during the night. He goes to the castle and takes on the challenge. Before they settle in for the night, the eldest princess offers him a cup of wine. Remembering the old woman's warnings, he throws it away and pretends to fall asleep. Thinking him unconscious, the girls disappear through a trap door in the floor and, throwing on the invisibility cloak, the young solider follows them.

The girls go to an underground ball and the soldier follows each night, taking with him a souvenir as proof of his trip. Finally, on the fourth morning, he goes to the king and presents him with his evidence. Seeing that they've been found out, the princesses confess to it and the eldest marries the solider, who becomes heir to the throne. The end~

The fairytale has always bothered me. Why are the princesses made out as such frivolous girls? Do they think it's fun to watch men be put to death because they need to go out dancing each night? It's just such a vaguely misogynistic story; not that most original fairytales are so feminist but at least most of the women in them have a reason for what they do. These princesses are just silly girls who don't think of the consequences of their actions and need a strong military man to set them straight. 

And thus enters all the retellings. In this particular version, George gives the princesses not only a reason for their strange adventures but also very serious consequences and histories. The girls don't go because they're silly; they go because they are under a curse, brought down from their mother before them. They wish they could tell but the curse doesn't allow them. They don't want to go each night. One of the princesses catches a cold that gets worse and worse because she can't get proper rest, forced to go dancing every night.

Our young soldier, as well, doesn't randomly do this for the reward but is actually a gardener for the king who has befriended the eldest princess. His worry for her is the reason he takes on the challenge, despite the fact that all the previous challengers have mysteriously died after failing. 

Everything seems a lot more serious, a lot less frivolous. With some more history, some background information and sympathetic characters, George has created a story with a lot more depth than the original fairytale. Nevermind the fact that this is a young adult novel and thus, is a quick and easy read. If you're looking for a feel good fairytale to read on a Saturday afternoon, than this may be the book for you.

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