‘Entwined’ was the first book on my reading challenge list and I finished it last Wednesday.
Come and mend your broken hearts here.
Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her – beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing – it’s taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.
Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest, but there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realise how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.
This, Heather Dixon’s debut, is a retelling of ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses’, the second one I’ve read, the first being Jessica Day George’s ‘Princess of the Midnight Ball’.
I shall confess that, yet again, I was drawn in by the gorgeous cover. What can I say? I think I should just resign myself to the fact that I will keep buying books based on beautiful covers.
Anyway, I had high hopes for this one after ‘Princess of the Midnight Ball’. From the description on the back cover and the fact that it’s marketed as ‘young adult’, I thought the tone would be darker. Also, it’s garnered a huge number of 5* reviews.
Straight off, we’re introduced to the protagonist, the eldest princess, Azalea, who’s excited but nervous about hosting her first ball as her mother is too ill to do it. In the scene with Azalea and her mother, who’s about to have baby number 12, it’s obvious how close they are and what a loving mother she is to all her daughters.
There’s a brief introduction to the king, Azalea’s father, and he seems to be the opposite; stiff and unapproachable. The fact that Azalea calls him ‘sir’, and not ‘father’ or ‘papa’ speaks volumes.
Even though they’re too young to attend the ball, the other princesses manage to sneak in. And we’re sort of introduced to them. Like the princesses in the ‘Midnight Ball’ version, these princesses, too, are named after flowers. Here, they’ve been named alphabetically, though a couple of names did give me pause – who in their right mind would name their daughters, Goldenrod and Kale?
Dixon makes it clear early on that there is a parliament that controls the purse strings. This means the king and his family aren’t rich royalty. The girls’ dresses are shabby and threadbare; they don’t have many gowns; their meals are basic.
The main points of the fairy tale are present – we have the enchanted forest with the silver fruit; the invisible cloak; even the suitors who are given three nights to try and solve the riddle of the princesses’ mysterious nightly dances.
Sadly, my ‘high hopes’ didn’t stand much of a chance. Personally, I think the back cover description should be re-worded because the book would suit a pre-teen crowd, not ‘young adult’. There’s no depth, barely a hint of darkness or anything edgy about the story. And for the story it was telling, at 473 pages, it was way too long. It should have been about half that. Not a lot really happened in the middle of the book; what did happen was repetitious – nightly dance, boring daytime, enduring the different suitors…
I wanted to enjoy this book, I really did. I wanted to give it 5* but, alas, I couldn’t give it more than 2.5*. There were things about it I liked. For starters, even though it wasn’t widespread, I liked the way magic was just accepted. And the magic that Dixon created for her world was, to me, imaginative.
I also liked the interaction between the girls and their father. Until that seemed to falter as the story progressed. The changes in the way they reacted to one another started to feel convenient instead of natural.
Dixon has tried to give the girls’ distinct personalities, and, I think, up to a point, she succeeded; no mean feat when you’re juggling twelve young girls. But, I think, all this suffered from the length of the book. By the time I got halfway through the book, the only thing setting each sister apart was little traits, like the angelic one, the one who loved to eat, the one who kept losing things, the twins…
Although she gave the ages of the younger ones, at no point were the ages of the two oldest, Azalea and Bramble, given. I couldn’t work out if Azalea was 16 or older, maybe even younger. Because there were times her behaviour was more like that of a 12-year-old.
Again, given the length of the book, it was difficult to tell how much time was passing. The story seems to take place over the course of one year, which means by the end of the story, the youngest, Lily, newly born at the start of the book, is no more than a year old. Yet, through the story, it’s as if Dixon has forgotten how old she is; she has Lily doing things beyond her age. Lily must have only been a few months old when her sisters “step through the enchanted passage… to dance in the silver forest”; yet they take her too with seemingly no thought for her safety.
As for the Keeper, from what was said on the back cover, I thought, hoped, his story would make him a delicious villain but, no. He turned out to be nothing more than a 2D cardboard cut-out.
Possibly one of the reasons the book was longer than it needed to be was the number of repetitions. I lost count of the number of times Azalea’s toes curled in her slippers/boots; the number of times she dug her nails into the palms of her hands, which could mark her skin even when she wore gloves! The number of times she fell into icy water; the number of times the king sucked in his cheeks.
Another reason I think the book is more suitable for pre-teens is, the romance is very chaste. Also, Dixon’s tendency to use ‘sound effects’ in her descriptions:
“… their heels made a clickety click click the entire way…”
“… several minutes later, a loud crash came from the kitchen, followed by the clatter of spoons scattering across the floor, then a falling lid, ending the chaos with a wah-wah-wa-wa-wawawawawathunk.”. That had me stumped! Boys to the rescue; they think it’s probably the sound made when a saucepan lid falls to the floor, does that spinny thing before finally settling.
Considering this was written by an American, I was surprised how ‘jolly hockey sticks’ the dialogue was. One character reminded me very much of Bertie Wooster; an example of his dialogue:
“Oh, great muffins,” he said, bouncing up and down again. “Everyone knew your mother. I knew her before she boffed off to Eathesbury!”
It occurred to me while writing this review that the book reminded me of Enid Blyton’s school stories, like Mallory Towers.
One final gripe – I know this is a story about dancing princesses, but the frequent use of dance terms and references got tiresome. It kept pulling me out of the story, wondering what they meant. They were even used to describe Azalea evading capture.
But the one that really knocked me out of the story – one of the sisters did a grand jeté into the arms of the man she loved! A grand jeté is described in Encyclopaedia Britannica as “a broad, high leap with one leg stretched forward and the other back like a ‘split’ in the air.” All I could think was how come she didn’t kick him in the head??
If the back cover blurb had been written differently, making it clear that it’s a story for a younger audience, I wouldn’t have read ‘Entwined’, despite the beautiful cover.