Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Juliet Marillier/WILDWOOD DANCING
In rural Transylvania, five sisters are left alone for the winter in their secluded manor while their father is on a business trip. Jena, the practical second oldest, has the job of looking after the family's expenses, receiving and storing incoming shipments, and fending off the unwelcome interference of her older male cousin. The sisters have more than just surviving the winter to worry about--for almost ten years, the sisters have been hiding a secret: every month on the evening of the full moon, they descend through a magic portal to the enchanted glade of the Other Kingdom, where the magical residents of their forest dance until the wee hours of the morning. And, worst luck of all, Jena's older sister, Tatiana, seems to be forming an untenable attachment to someone on the wrong side of the portal. Will Jena be able to keep her family from falling to pieces while her father is gone? Will she be able to right the balance between the human and the magical worlds?
On the surface, Wildwood Dancing is a retelling of "The Dancing Princesses," albeit much less patriarchal than the original. But it is also rather more than that. I'd recently reviewed another YA book about fairies and really enjoyed it, but my friend Faye, an expert on the topic, told me I needed to read this book or I'd be missing out. Woah, was that an understatement. There are a number of bad puns I could use to describe how enchanted I was by the story, so suffice it to say they all apply. I got so lost in the story that I canceled plans one evening to make time to finish reading the last 200 pages in one sitting.
Marillier ties together threads of adventure, romance, and magic, all the things we've come to count on in good YA literature, along with a a sensitive and vivid rendering of her setting and a keen nostalgia for the fairy tales we read as children. "The Dancing Princesses" is only one of the several fairy tales whose themes she has woven in. I'll admit that what I knew what the plot twist was going to be almost right at the beginning of the book. Nevertheless, I eagerly read on to see how it would come about.
Perhaps most importantly--even better than her ethereal fairy world and her faithful attention to atmosphere--Wildwood Dancing is among the very finest of coming-of-age stories, the kind that everyone secretly wants to read (even people who think they don't). Jena's story, however magical, is also realistic in the extreme--the kinds of challenges that beset her, the way she reacts to them, the way her rational hopes for her own future need to be negotiated with her less rational hopes. Jena, the character, was at least as transporting as everything going on around her.
I'm not sure I have anything else to say about this book that wouldn't make me sound frivolously hyperbolic. Give it a shot--I'm pretty sure you'll find it as satisfying and delightful as I did.
(Re: category: Although it is categorized as YA and doesn't contain content parents would find unsavory, I've already recommended it to several adult readers, as well.)