My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don't know when this happened, but I've suddenly found myself addicted to fairy tale retells. Wildwood Dancing was recommended to me by one of my library teens, an honorary fairy tale princess who considers this one of her 11 Most Overlooked Books. When I read her description, I knew I had to read this, since The Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite fairy tales from childhood.
For me, a perfect fairy tale retelling makes you work to identify the original tale, and it also weaves in elements of other tales and traditions. Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles are a shining example of this, and Wildwood Dancing also delivers (in a much more traditional way). Instead of 12 sisters imprisoned in their castle (sometimes only distinguishable by the color of their gowns), Marillier gives us 5 distinct sisters who begin the tale with relative independence that is gradually and painfully stripped away from them by an overbearing male cousin with some serious insecurity/youngest son issues. The puzzle of how the sisters are allowed to cross over to the Other Kingdom every full moon is one that takes almost the entire book to solve. In between, there are adolescent struggles on both sides of the boundary: balancing family loyalty and duty with personal desires, the highs and lows of true love, a young woman's fight for independence, and a bevy of trust issues. At times, the two eldest sisters are painfully stubborn and blind, but, hey, THEY'RE TEENAGERS. It all works.
I loved the setting of rural Transylvania, a place riddled with vampire stereotypes that the author cleverly avoids and replaces with the vague and mysterious "Night People". That she visited and did research here really shows in the details and the overall mood (love: glossary and pronunciation guides in the back). The woods of both our world and the Other Kingdom are haunting and dark, but we learn time and again that respect of the wood and its ancient culture will keep you (relatively) out of peril.
The romance in the book is sweet and painful; sigh-worthy and as realistic as is appropriate within context. I'm glad I discovered this author (thanks Paige!), and can't wait to read more from her.
-Kelley, (Your) Teen Services Librarian
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