Review: “Princess of the Midnight Ball” by Jessica Day George

For the love of books

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a fairy tale whose vague plot contains many unanswered enigmas.  For example, why did the twelve princesses have to dance every night until dawn?  Moreover, why did they keep their exploits, whether voluntary or involuntary, a secret from their father the king?  Was their silence forced or by choice?  Princess of the Midnight Ball is the result of Jessica Day George’s scrutiny of this confusing story and its unfathomable mysteries.

In this retelling, all twelve princesses have specified names and different ages, not to mention individual personalities.  The eldest daughter is appropriately named Rose.  A character in bloom, Rose has mental endurance and a strong temperament despite being only seventeen years old.  Due to the untimely death of the princesses’ mother, Queen Maude, Rose has had to become a mother figure to her younger sisters at the age of thirteen, which has contributed to her quick maturity.  Under the gaze of their tenacious father, King Gregor of Westfalin, the girls must carefully hide a terrible secret connected to the late Queen—a dark series of past events cruelly planned by an old evil nemesis with a hand in magic, all leading up to present circumstances.

Tattered dancing shoes, continuing illness, and impenetrable silence compel King Gregor to seek outside help to solve the mystery surrounding his daughters.  He holds a contest, but the casualties concerning the royal contestants transform a simple appeal for help into a political and religious scandal.  The kingdom is almost on the brink of another war, and to worsen the situation, a religious inquisition is brought into the capital city of Bruch in response to massive requests.  The fate of Westfalin and its royal family is truly in the hands of a young former soldier named Galen.  Intelligent, courageous, and understanding, Galen must battle the prejudice against his status as a commoner, go beyond the boundaries of the reality he knows, and enter a dangerous enchanted world in order to rescue the woman he loves.

The author describes every angle of her narrative in great detail, and her characters are refreshingly unusual.  Ionia, the continent that Westfalin belongs to, is remarkably parallel in visualization to Europe.  The countries, or kingdoms, of Westfalin, Breton, and Analousia are likewise similar to the post-Renaissance countries of Germany, England, and Spain, respectively.  Moreover, the twelve-year war between Analousia and Westfalin reflects upon the extended warfare and numerous battles between various monarchies during the course of European history.  The city of Roma stands as an intriguing reference in the storyline as the center of religious authority, not unlike the Vatican in Rome, in a world that seems to have a main religion with singular traits from Roman Catholicism.  However, George leaves some circumstances untouched in her story, e.g. the exact nature of the King Under Stone and his underground subjects.

Leaving some of the untangling of the plot to the reader’s own perusal, Princess of the Midnight Ball retains and deepens the darker themes and elements of the original fairy tale into a striking work of fiction where the light of romance and true nobility break through any evil.  Galen’s growing love for Rose sustains the story without sounding overly sentimental and develops any discussion within the novel regarding class division and political marriage.  With her many characters, settings, and ideas interwoven into the outline of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball is the definition of originality in a new version of an old classic.

Original review: Part 1: Jessica Day George’s storytelling is exceptionalPart 2: Jessica Day George’s storytelling is exceptional, Examiner.com

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