Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George (review)
Categories: YA fantasy; fairy-tales retold
Series: Princess #1
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2009
Book Source: My collection (e-book)
I love a good retelling of a classic fairy tale, and Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball is one of the best. George breathes life into the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, set it in an analog of 18th- or early 19th-century Europe. Our hero, Galen, is a battle-weary veteran of Westfalia’s 12-year war with Analousia, a conflict that claimed the lives of his father, mother, and sister; the novel focuses as much on Galen as on Rose, the eldest Westfalin princess.
It’s hard to pin down just what makes George’s retelling so captivating. She blends magical and realistic elements perfectly, lending a aura of believability to the most fantastic parts of the story. The characters, particularly the major ones, are well-drawn, and the back story George has constructed to explain the princesses’ enchantment makes sense of the tale and gives it depth. George’s princesses are unwilling participants in the underground balls, and the toll their forced nightly dancing takes, not on them alone but on the king and court and even on Westfalia’s relations with other nations, only increases the urgent need to solve the mystery – an imperative missing in the original story as I remember it. The attraction between Galen and Rose is limned with a delicate touch, and the interactions between the sisters – who, thankfully, have differing temperaments, though we don’t get to know all of them well – demonstrate a convincing solidarity in the face of danger despite their occasional differences of opinion. But none of those things by itself makes the novel work; rather, it’s the combination that paints the story with a magical glow.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the Grimm fairy tale at its heart, Princess of the Midnight Ball is a wonderful YA fantasy. Its enchantment will remain with you long after you turn the last page.
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