I have admitted before that I’m shallow. I find myself forced to admit it again – it was the cover that attracted me to this book. I saw it in the ‘upcoming releases’ section at Fantastic Fiction and the pretty cover encouraged me to check out the blurb. While it was actually the blurb that persuaded me to track down the book, I wouldn’t have read the blurb without the cover, so in the end, the credit for my enjoyment (because I did enjoy it) has to go to the cover.
Princess of the Midnight Ball retells the story of the twelve dancing princesses whose father the king is driven to distraction by the way their dancing shoes are worn to pieces every night and they refuse to tell him why. George’s telling doesn’t vary into new territory, in that she sticks to the basic, familiar tale, but she breathes life into the characters in a way that makes you care about what happens to them and want them to triumph over the curse that is woven around the princesses. She also provides a backstory for why the girls must dance for the King Under Stone every night that is perfectly reasonable and fits with the kingdom and characters she has borrowed and/or created.
Galen is a young soldier, returning from a war that, finally after twelve long years, Westfalin has won at great cost. With all his family dead, he makes his way to the capital city of Burch and the aunt and uncle he has never met. Along the road he meets an old woman and takes the time to share his meagre supplies with her. In return, she gives him a cloak of invisibility, some balls of wool and words of advice. Puzzled by the gift, he continues on his way. He finds his aunt and uncle and goes to work for his uncle, who is the king’s gardener. In the palace gardens, he meets Princess Rose, the eldest of the kings twelve daughters and gets caught up in the mystery of why the princesses wear out pairs of dancing slippers every night.
Galen is an endearing hero and his adventures as he tries to break the princesses’ curse are deftly told. The language has a light touch that matches the fairy tale setting of the book. There are moments of humour and of great tension, especially at the end as Galen and the princesses flee from the underground kingdom. Rose and her sisters are well drawn, and if I got a bit confused about which sister was which, there were twelve of them so I think I can be forgiven. The littlest princess, who has been forced to dance since she could walk, is a lovely character and her interactions with Galen are lovely.
I enjoyed the king too, a character who can be poorly treated in the tale. He’s a loving father trying desperately to help his daughters but not understanding the smallest thing about what is happening to them. His dead wife is a surprisingly strong character considering she has been gone for years; but she is the one who set the curse in motion (not a spoiler as we learn this in the prologue) and so her influence hangs over the entire story. But even she is misguided rather more than anything else, and we come to understand her and her actions by the end of the tale.
The magic is subtle, not spells and enchantments, but something quieter and more integral to the world itself. Galen knits, and his knitting is hugely important to the plot and it is herbs from the garden that protect him from the King Under Stone’s enchantment that sends everyone around the princesses to sleep as they ready for his Midnight Ball. I enjoyed this, as it fitted with the delicate touch of the prose and the tale’s feeling of gentle innocence.
This is a lovely little book, easy to read and filled with pleasant characters whose lives it is a pleasure to visit for a while. I’m glad I got seduced by the cover, as I enjoyed the story it was advertising.
Princess of the Midnight Ball
Jessica Day George