Book source: Public library
The Thirteenth Princess retells the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses from the point of view of a youngest thirteenth sister. Disregarded by the King after her mother dies in childbirth, Zita is relegated to work as a servant in her father’s palace. She shares a clandestine but loving relationship with her twelve princess sisters, who sneak her into their room every Sunday night and try in other small ways to show their sympathy for her. When her sisters grow increasingly listless, pale, and weak, while their shoes show every evidence of hard walking or dancing, Zita becomes deeply worried. Aided by her stableboy friend Breckin; Breckin’s brother Milek, a soldier; and a friendly witch, she attempts to find the cause of her sisters’ illness — and put a stop to it.
Zahler has introduced a few interesting new elements to the tale, notably the likable Zita. She adds brief touches of humor such as a enchanted frog door knocker. But the book, while a pleasant enough read, lacks the luster of the much richer Princess of the Midnight Ball, based on the same fairy tale. George’s novel shimmers with magic; her characters are more alive, the dangers more acute, the descriptions more vivid than Zahler’s. Admittedly, Zahler is writing for a younger audience (tween rather than teen), but that hasn’t stopped George from writing vivid and lively books for young readers (Tuesdays At the Castle.)
Zahler’s characterizations are one area of difficulty. The king is oddly inconsistent, even contradictory, in his behavior toward both Zita and her sisters. Zita herself seems to accept her lot too easily. Although she admits to occasional envy of her sisters, it is mild and passes quickly, bearing little resemblance to the anger and resentment the reader might expect from a child in Zita’s position. And with the exception of Aurelia, the eldest princess, Zita’s other sisters have about as much individuality and personality as white cake from a mix. In fact, that is a good description of the book as a whole: sweet, mildly enjoyable, but ultimately somewhat bland.