Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
After reading Daughter of the Forest, I became hooked on Marillier’s works. Her prose and lore is wonderfully original and absorbing, and Wildwood Dancing does not disappoint in this regard.
Based on a number of fairy tales and legends, most notably the Twelve Dancing Princesses, The Frog Prince, and the Romanian legend of the Night People, Wildwood Dancing plays on the traditional coming-of-age theme, so prevalent in young adult novels, while establishing a lore of its own.
Five sisters, Tati, Jena, Paula, Iulia, and Stela are left in the care of their aunt and uncle when their merchant father’s failing health forces him to seek a more temperate clime for the winter. Jena, the cleverest, is left in charge of the estate and family business, but soon finds her position challenged by her cousin Cezar, who thinks it unseemly that Jena and her sisters are granted such freedom and encouraged in their educational endeavors. It doesn’t help that Cezar also abhors all mention of magic, while the girls revel in secret moonlight gatherings with the local faerie court. Adding to the tension, Jena suspects that there is more to Cezar’s attention than mere cousinly concern. Life at Piscu Dracului soon becomes complicated when the past comes back to haunt Cezar and the possibility of a future marked by their cousin’s domineering presence puts the girls’ safety at odds with their beliefs and desires. With her faithful frog, Gogu, in tow, Jena sets out to make things right, even if it means facing the unseen dangers of the forest and its magical denizen. Magic, love, and courage make this a must read fairy tale.
Wildwood Dancing is a slim volume that leaves you wanting more and wondering what Marillier more could have done if the novel had been written for an adult audience. Jena and her sisters are highly individual and, though the action focuses on Jena and Tati, none of the girls become lost in the background. Each of the sisters could have a story of their own, given their unique traits and wants. The threat of Cezar’s bitterness and fear-induced hatred of all things related to the Other Kingdom threatens each girl in her own way, and adds to the sense of desperation and isolation felt by the girls as they are cut off from society as a result of their cousin’s effort to control their lives.
Several subplots are combined to produce a story that is more than its parts. This is not merely a retelling of a single fairy tale, but an entirely new one. The elements of the Frog Prince are no more significant than those of the vampire legend, each supports and develops the plot as a whole. The novel also plays on the notion that desire can have a profound effect on life, no matter how off-handedly a wish might be made. Much of the relationship between Jena and Cezar [and Gogu] is based on a single moment when she and her cousin[s] were asked to request their heart’s desire. While the power of choice is linked to magic in the novel, the consequences of envy, anger, and desire are intensely human.
Wildwood Dancing is an incredibly thought-provoking novel that touches on issues of choice, self, feminism, magic, and more, and I feel this is a highly inadequate representation of it. Seriously, my summary does not even scratch the surface. As a young adult novel, it remains young in its treatment of these issues, but does not disappoint for all that. It’s just the sort of strong girl fairy tale that I love.
According to my searching, there is a sequel that I will soon be seeking.