“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is one of several fairy tales that I truly love and only rarely find satisfying adaptations of. That isn’t a criticism of the world and its life choices, exactly, because I can see how “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” would be difficult to adapt well. It’s an odd little story, and the ending’s not the best ever, and even when I do read adaptations of it, I rarely feel they’ve done a good job exploring the potential of the original story. That was the case with Entwined, even though I did enjoy it.
Azalea is the oldest of eleven girls. Their mother, who teaches them dances and plays with them and eats meals with them, is pregnant with a twelfth child and very ill. She dies giving birth to the twelfth princess, and the princesses are left with their cold, distant father. He barely acknowledges them and orders that the whole house go into mourning for a year, which means, essentially, nobody gets to do anything fun. Dancing — now strictly forbidden — is the one thing that still makes the girls feel connected to their mother. Almost by accident, they discover a magic passage that leads to a place where they can dance all night under the auspices of a mysterious man called Keeper. But Keeper may not be what he seems.
What I liked: I really loved the development of the relationship between the king and his daughters. At the beginning of the book, he can barely speak to them, referring to them as “Miss” and insisting on a strictly regimented lifestyle. In a book where many of the characters were underdeveloped, it was nice to see the gradual reveal that the king cared about the girls and wanted the best for them. This all leads to some fairly touching moments in the climactic battle and denouement. Out of everything in the book, this plotline felt by far the most genuine.
I also thought some of the creepy moments were pleasingly creepy. (Highlight the following if you don’t mind spoilers.) Azalea finds that Keeper has imprisoned her mother’s soul when she sees her mother in the underground dance floor with her mouth sewn shut. Urgh. Also when Keeper is trying to make Azalea do what he wants, he traps all of her sisters in mirrors. Isn’t it nice how mirrors have a seemingly endless capacity to be creepy?
What I didn’t like: The system of magic by which the story was run didn’t hang together all that well. I didn’t have a good sense of what sort of thing was permitted by this system of magic, and how a person would go about fighting it. The idea was that magic was sort of gone from the kingdom but not really — I don’t know, I could have used more backstory and a clearer picture of how magic worked and what everybody thought about it. I felt like a lot of potential for interesting story was missed here.
The sisters, of course, were indistinguishable apart from the top three, but that would be hard to avoid, with twelve of them. The suitors who came along were entertaining (esp. Lord Teddy because really, who doesn’t like nice young men who say “Dash it all” all the time?), but their relationships to the girls felt cardboardy, something the author put in because she felt she must, and because the fairy tale called for menfolk. Nor were they particularly well-integrated into the larger story. Dropping them wouldn’t have made any difference to the climax, which is never a good sign.
All in all, it was a fun fairy tale retelling — I love fairy tale retellings — that didn’t take full advantage of all the storylines and plot ideas it contained. But I still liked it and even teared up at the end, because, well, I am just susceptible to emotional moments with parents and their kids.
Numerous other people have read this, as the Book Blogs Search Engine‘s several pages of results will tell you. I missed seeing Anastasia‘s post on it earlier this month, which is weird because she posted about it around the same time that I was reading it. I don’t know how I missed it.