Books · Fantasy

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

I’ve read many stories about fairies, and about vampires, but I think this is one of the few I’ve read (maybe the only one I’ve read, I’m not sure) that has both. It is also a fairy tale retelling of both The Twelve Dancing Princesses andThe Frog Prince. Set in Transylvania, this story is about five girls – Tatiana, Jenica, Paula, Iulia, and Stela – who live in a castle called Piscul Dracului. Once every month, the girls open a portal into the fairy realm, where they join in the fairy revels. Their adventures in the Wildwood were meant to be as a form of escapism and adventure, but when their father falls ill and their cousin tries to take over Piscul Dracului, everything began to change.

Jenica (Jena), the second daughter, is the “sensible” one and the narrator of this story. While her sisters enjoy themselves in the fairy revels, she kept a watchful eye on them. The fairy court is populated by all kinds of fey creatures, but she preferred to befriend the trolls and the dwarves. Her best friend was Gogu, a frog that she had rescued and she could actually talk to. It was Jena who was worried when the Night People – probably what we know as vampires – started to join the revels, and it was Jeni who first noticed when one of the newcomers and her sister Tatiana fell in love. Since her father was ill and she took it upon herself to be the guardian of her family, she tried to warn her sister of the dangers of forming an attachment with someone from a different world, but Tatiana would not listen. As if it were not enough, in their own world their cousin Cezar was turning slowly into a tyrant, taking over their castle and vowing to destroy the woods that she loved.

The relationship between Tatiana and Sorrow reminded me too much of that of Niamh and Ciaran in Marillier’s Son of the Shadows, and I really didn’t like either couple. I prefer love stories where the people involved were first and foremost independent individuals, rather than lovesick teens wasting away because of love. It would have been good if Tatiana had more faith in Sorrow at the end, and proved that she could be strong enough to wait for him at least, rather than pining uselessly and almost dying from starvation. In comparison, I liked Jeni. She did all that she could to protect her sisters and her friends in the Wildwood, and when she falls in love, it was a love that was based on friendship and trust. She had a tendency to snap at people or hurt others’ feelings when she was angry or stressed, but she immediately apologises even though she found it very hard to admit that she was wrong. Like many heroines in fairy tales, she made a mistake that might have meant losing the person she loves, but she took those stories as an example and used the Donkeyskin story as an inspiration to win him back.

Perhaps Marillier meant to contrast the two sisters that way, the way Niamh and Liadan were in Son of the Shadows. After all, the more irritated I became with Tatiana, the more Jeni grew on me. It was especially irksome that Jena’s outspoken ways labeled her as a “shrew”, according to Cezar. Sexism is rampant in the story, coming from their cousin Cezar, who believed that Jena, although taught by her father to take over his business and the household, could not possibly bear the responsibility because she was female. He made sure that Paula, the most scholarly of the sisters, would no longer be able to receive tutoring, and throughout the book he tried to take away any independence the girls have gained, citing that it was only to “protect” them. He was not alone in his opinions, however; the story is set in a time where people still believed that women were weak creatures to be protected. It emphasized Jena’s strength and bravery as she fought to regain control of her own household, and to protect her independence and that of her sisters’.

The five sisters may be stereotyped (the pretty one, the smart one, the silly one, etc.) and remind me somewhat of the Bennet sisters, and the different elements of the story may not be so interesting by itself. But as a whole, Wildwood Dancing is a charming fantasy infused with Romanian folklore that any fan of YA or fantasy fiction should appreciate.

~ originally posted on blogspot


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