[Wildwood Dancing]: A Review

Hi everyone!

I am excited to post what may be my final review pre-baby! This is such an exciting time for our family. I have scheduled a few posts for these first few weeks postpartum (mostly for the awesome #AnneReadAlong2017!). But otherwise, I will be loving on my newborn and my toddler 🙂

Today I am reviewing Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. I had this book recommended to me probably a year ago from a friend in book club. And I have actually reserved it from the library several times. Finally, this time I both picked it up and read the entire novel before it was due. What a fun fantasy retelling of the 12 dancing princesses!

Initial Thoughts:

  • I want to travel to Transylvania now. Marillier certainly did her research and has created a beautiful setting for her story. More on this later.
  • I haven’t read a lot of fantasy lately so I enjoyed the change of pace. A great fantasy world and a generous mix of magic and reality. The world building and fantasy creatures are interesting and well developed.
  • This is definitely a YA book as opposed to a children’s novel. There are some mature themes and some intense scenes that would scare little kids. But overall, the book is clean and has an engaging plot.

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Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier is a fantasy retelling of the 12 dancing princesses fairy tale. Goodreads summarizes, “High in the Transylvanian woods, . . . live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm. But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop. When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.”

There was an interesting mix of compelling, dynamic characters and flat, boring characters in this book. My favorite characters were definitely Jena and her “pet” frog Gogu. I loved their relationship and the mystery behind Gogu’s background. Gogu and his transformation is a great twist in the novel. Jena is noble, fights for her family and her freedom, and understands the power and the strength of the wildwood. She makes mistakes, but she also learns from them. I appreciated the way she grew and changed through the novel. And the ways she had to overcome her own doubts about her future and fears about the other realms to find true happiness. On the other hand, I found Tati to be a bit over the top. She didn’t have much depth to her character and was basically dying of a broken heart from the moment she met Sorrow. I would have liked to see more fight and strength in her. And cousin Cezar drove me crazy from the first time we meet him. I was always worried he would do something inappropriate or rash that would lead to something worse. The younger three sisters were interesting characters and I would be interested in reading further books (I know there is a book 2) exploring how they grow up–Paula with her scholarship and wisdom and littlest sister finding a new portal to the wildwood.

The setting is truly beautiful and compelling. In many ways, the wildwood itself becomes a character all it’s own. The realms that touch it are connected by a special life force that isn’t ever quite explained, and I like the mystery of it all. It seems the witch of the forest embodies the magic of the setting that drives the entire plot of the novel. I loved the way that locations like the deadwash and the dancing glen contributed to the overall story. We are taken back to these places several times through flashbacks and various scenes. But the details of those places change subtly giving the story more mystery and intrigue. 

 

I appreciated the multiple layers of meaning in items, locations, and themes within the novel. In other words, I think this book would only be more compelling on rereading it because I could catch even more of the thematic elements in it. For example, Jena gives up a paper crown as a child to become “queen of the fairies.” The crown reappears later in the story and represents her ability to cross over into the other realm at the full moon. And we see the meaning of that item change as Jena changes and discovers what is most important in her life now. Similarly, the witch shows Jena visions of the future and Jena must both find the truth in them and decide what future she desires. Themes of loyalty, friendship, understanding truth, power of true love, and overcoming the past were all seen throughout with beautiful complexity.

A few favorite quotes from the novel that showcase Marillier’s gorgeous writing and some beautiful themes:

“At Full Moon, everything was different, everything was upside down and back to front. Doors opened that were closed on other days, and those whom the human world feared became friends. The Bright Between was a gateway: not a threat, but a promise.”

“True love is the best thing. It’s the thing that makes troubles go away.”

“That’s what life is all about–love and loyalty, truth and trust. I’m not giving that up.”

“Yours is a world of constant change. You must learn to change, too. You spend a great deal of time worrying about others: trying to put their lives right, trying to shape your world as you believe it should be. You must learn to trust your instincts, or you are doomed to spend your life blinded by duty while beside you a wondrous tree sprouts and springs up and buds and blooms, and your heart takes no comfort from it, for you cannot rise your eyes to see it.”

Wildwood Dancing, pages 12-13, 255, 320, & 325

While I enjoyed the themes above, the book also felt long and overly dramatic for me at times. This is definitely a YA novel because there are some intense love story drama and intense girlie emotions (broken hearts and such). Sometimes I had to roll my eyes at the intensity of it all. It got a little bit over the top with Tati’s intense love for Sorrow and her connected illness. Additionally, I think the novel could have been edited more and probably 50 pages shorter. We get so many details leading up to the climax but it dragged on for me in the second half of the novel.

The ending wraps everything up really nicely but also a bit too quickly. There is so much build up to a final battle or confrontation or something. And then suddenly, everything is resolved and everyone is (mostly) happy and safe. I would have liked more development after Jena decides to fight for her family and not just her own desires. Also would have loved more of Gogu post big plot twist (won’t give away what that is) and the relationships he seeks to create. I am glad there is another book!

Overall, a clever and engaging story with a beautiful setting that will pull you into the story. I enjoy retellings of fairy tales because we get so many more details about the characters and their adventures. This was a fun read of a favorite fairy tale of mine. I recommend it to those who love this fairy tale and retellings in general.

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What are some of your favorite fairy tale retellings?

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