As with ‘The Goose Girl’, this was another quick read. Sadly, the only reason I read it quickly is because I wanted it to end.
I know, I know, I’m not the target audience, and I know this book is well-loved. And I really wanted to enjoy it, having read the rhapsodic reviews. But it just did not do it for me. I was expecting more because it’s in the ‘young adult’ section, but I think it’s more for a younger age group, the under-12s, as it’s a very cleanly told, straightforward story with no real suspense or danger.
‘Princess of the Midnight Ball’ is another fairy tale retelling, this time of Grimm’s ‘The 12 Dancing Princesses’, also known as ‘The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes’ or ‘The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces’.
‘As the crown princess, 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.’
JDG knows the original fairy tale, there’s no doubt about that, as her story is basically a rehash of the original. And that was my first ‘problem’ with it; it’s too similar. I felt I’d been given the same story, and that’s not what I look for in a retelling. I wanted something new, something exhilarating but which still felt familiar. This was too familiar; basically, the same story with different words.
We have the 12 princesses, the nightly dancing and worn out shoes, the princes who try and fail to solve the riddle of the worn out shoes, the poor soldier who succeeds with the help of an invisible cloak.
To her credit, JDG gives all 12 sisters, who are each named after a flower, adequate ‘screen time’. Trying to make each a distinct character in the confines of the story she’s written was a monumental task; unfortunately, the end result is they’re all forgettable. Even the oldest one, Rose, lacks a distinct personality.
Unlike the poor soldier in the original tale, the soldier here, Galen, is much younger, in his late teens, and he’s given enough of a backstory. But he’s not much more interesting. Is it churlish of me to question how a young man who’s lived his life in a fighting army from the age of six has such excellent manners around young princesses? I’m not implying that every young soldier is a coarse ruffian, but Galen didn’t have his mother’s gentle input during his adolescent years. JDG says Galen’s parents had “instilled in him a deep respect for women…” but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he would know how to act around royalty or talk to them because he’s spent his young life among soldiers. Again, it’s because I was expecting more, thinking this was aimed at ‘young adults’.
The princes who come to try and overturn the curse are all vain, foppish, idiotic – basically, everything Galen is not to show how wonderful he is, I suppose.
The villain, the King Under Stone, turned out to be a cardboard cut-out of a villain with no depth. I was hoping for more from his sons, who show traces of being interesting when it’s hinted that they themselves may have no choice in what is happening. When Rose tells him and his brothers that they’re not very bright, the oldest prince, Illiken, responds thus:
‘A spark of something lit in Illiken’s eyes at her harsh words. “Father doesn’t like us to be too clever,” he said carefully, as though testing to see if she understood. “He does not appreciate rivalry.”’
I thought, hoped, that would lead to something more about the princes, but no. They turned out to be your common, run-of-the-mill villains too.
Another reason I feel this book should be clearly marked for a younger crowd is the ease in which key moments flow. Any vital information that’s needed is conveniently found; when Galen is captured, he frees himself easily and finds his weapons left lying on a table; with very little interaction, Rose and Galen fall in love. And, my pet peeve, too much telling and not enough showing. Again, better for younger readers.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this book. If I’d started it knowing that it’s more for younger readers, most likely, I wouldn’t have read it. Or if I had, I’d have enjoyed it for what it was because, at the end of the day, JDG does have good storytelling skills. There were moments in this story that were inspired, mostly in the flashbacks to do with Rose’s mother and the King Under Stone. I can’t say much about that as it’ll give away too much of the story. In a way, I wish JDG had given us that story instead.
As for this particular book… note to self – don’t be seduced by a book’s gorgeous cover.