Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier, was published in 2007 by Alfred A. Knopf.
High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm. But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop. When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.
I grew to love Marillier’s writing through her book Shadowfell and its sequels (reviews coming to the blog at some point!), so I decided to try some of her other books—and I’m glad I did. Wildwood Dancing is an adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with a little bit of “The Princess and the Frog” thrown in, although I would say that the book is more inspired by them than actually adapts them. It’s an enchanting book with a beautiful setting, an “other realm” that I actually really liked (I don’t usually like “fairy realms” in books for some reason), and a protagonist who, while maybe not incredibly assertive, was quietly strong and persevering.
Some readers, used to the type of strong female characters that fight, speak their opinions loudly, and eschew all forms of tradition, might see Jena as meek and quiet. But while she’s certainly quiet, I found Jena a refreshing breath of air. She does her best to thwart Cezare as she can, in the position she is in, without stepping out of the bounds of what that world requires. Maybe that makes her seem spineless, to some people, but not to me. I appreciate a protagonist who works within his/her role, rather than breaking out of it and working without.
A few aspects of the plot were a little obvious—I spent most of the book impatiently waiting for Jena to realize what I had already figured out—and most of it is predictable, although seeing as how it’s at least a semi-adaptation of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” it would be. But I enjoyed Wildwood Dancing despite the predictability, despite the grating repetition of Cezare’s machinations, and despite the plodding middle, and I enjoyed it because of Jena, the beauty of the world and the writing, and the quiet wonder and mystery that steeps throughout the entire book.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Young Adult
The folk of the Other Kingdom had their own name for this expanse of shining water—at Full Moon, they called it the Bright Between. The lake waters spanned the distance between their world and ours. Once we set foot in their boats, we were caught in the magic of their realm. Time and distance were not what they seemed in the Other Kingdom. It was a long walk from Piscul Dracului to the Deadwash in our world—an expedition. Gogu and I had made that forbidden trip often, for the lake drew us despite ourselves. At Full Moon, the walk to Tӑul Ielelor was far shorter. At Full Moon, everything was different, everything was upside down and back to front. Doors opened that were closed on other days, and those whom the human world feared became friends. The Bright Between was a gateway: not a threat, but a promise.