Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Aug 19, 2013

Ever since finishing (and loving) Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, I've been wanting to read something else by Jessica Day George. In the midst of my indecision over which trilogy to read this year, I kept coming back to George's princess trilogy--partly because I already owned the set (thanks to my good friend, who also happens to be George's agent) and partly because I have wanted to read this series ever since falling in love with the cover of the second one, Princess of Glass. Oh, and the fact that each book is 250-300 pages, rather than 700, also made them highly tempting. 

I decided I might as well try the first one, and if I didn't love it, then I would still have plenty of time to choose a different trilogy before the end of the year. I shouldn't have worried. As soon as I finished this one, I read the next one, and I could have easily started the third one if I didn't have a couple of other books I've committed to finish in the next couple of weeks.

Queen Maude wanted a baby, and when she couldn't get pregnant, she resorted to making a bargain with the King Under Stone. He was more than generous--promising her twelve daughters instead of just one, and all she would have to do in exchange was dance for him during his midnight balls.

Maude agreed. And for awhile her plan seemed to work beautifully. Every year she gave birth to another beautiful girl. But the King Under Stone gradually began to tighten his hold, making her dance more frequently. Pretty soon, it became apparent that he had more long-term plans for her daughters: he happened to have twelve sons; it would be a perfect match.

When the story begins, Rose (at 17) is the eldest and Petunia (at 5) is the youngest (yes, they are all named after flowers). Their mother recently died and left them to carry out the terms of her curse. It should have just continued to be a quiet family problem . . . except that their father doesn't know anything about it, and he is both puzzled and worried by his daughters' ever-growing pile of worn out dancing shoes. Before long, bad things have started to happen above ground: suspicious deaths, tension between countries, and a threat to the king's title.

But I have yet to talk about the leading man, a dashing former-soldier-turned-palace-gardener named Galen. He is convinced that he can figure out the princesses' mysterious secret and help them, too. Oh, and did I mention that he knits?

I don't often give much notice to plot summaries (I tell you this after I've just given you my own lengthy one and expected you to read every word of it), but I happened to read the synopsis for this one, and I disagreed so much with one part of it that I feel compelled to bring it up here.

It says, and I quote: "But malevolent forces are working against them [Rose + Galen + 11 sisters] above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above."I beg to differ! The King Under Stone's wrath is no "mere irritation" even when compared with the very serious problems that are being dealt with by the kingdom. The King Under Stone is wicked and vile and frightening, and he is as much a threat to the world above as the world below.

Luckily, I didn't read that plot summary until after I'd finished the book, so I didn't have to struggle with any misconceptions about the King Under Stone being a "mere irritation" while I waited for the real villain to show up. 

Synopsis aside, I really loved the book. I've come to realize that while I'm not a huge fantasy fan, I really do like fairy tale retellings, and this one was both an enjoyable and creative spin on the twelve dancing princesses.

I have to admit, it was hard to keep track of all twelve sisters, all named and with slightly different personalities. And I felt like I was supposed to remember each one since they all had numerous lines and took turns being prominent in a number of scenes. I understand the necessity of having twelve, and in some ways it did make the events more interesting, but I think I would have preferred the focus to be on just three or four of them with the others being important mainly for the numbers. This may have been what she was attempting with Lily and Poppy and Pansy, who did get a little more attention, but the remaining eight were still mentioned too much to forget about them but not enough to truly know them or care about them.

Also, I have to say that I didn't really care that much for Rose, the eldest sister. She was fine but very unmemorable. In other words, she just had kind of a bland personality. Consequently, I thought the romance ended up being a little bland as well (even though I quite liked Galen). (Actually, now that I think about it, my dissatisfaction with Rose is exactly how I felt about Cosette in Les Miserables--like she was created to be an important character but one who wouldn't mess up anything too terribly.)

But those little gripes were really pretty minor in comparison with how much I enjoyed the book. I loved the way knitting was used as both a weapon and a force for good and how it became a masculine activity when Galen was doing it. I loved the descriptions of the King Under Stone's realm (exotically dark and creepy). I loved the way the ending played out and that the solution involved a pair of knitting needles and a chain made of black wool. And I loved, loved, loved the character of Walter (a quirky, but very wise, gardener). It was just a fast, easy, enjoyable read. Exactly what I wanted it to be.

I read Princess of Glass immediately following this one. In many ways I liked it even more, but I have several things I can't wait to bring up in a forthcoming review.

9 comments:

  1. great post! following you now! I hope to see you in my blog sometimes. thanks!
    Kisses from VV!!
    www.voguelyvan.com

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  2. I loved this book! I haven't read Princess of Glass yet, but it's on my Kindle, staring at me. :)

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    1. If you loved this one, I think you'll love Princess of Glass too!

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  3. I'm glad you loved this! I saw you were reading it and figured you'd chosen it for your trilogy and I wanted to tell you to read her dragon series instead because personally I thought they were much better. These were great but seemed more formulaic and predictable. Although I did love the princesses. I read this one right after reading wildwood dancing (also about the 12 dancing princesses) and liked this one better although they each had their strengths. So I might have been a little burnt out on dancing princesses. But it still was a great book and I've enjoyed everything she's written (I think I'll like Wednesdays in the Tower after the next book comes out because it definitely felt more like an intro than an actual book.

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    1. I'm sure I will read her dragon series at some point, but I'm actually really enjoying these princess books.

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  4. Agreed. While I'm not a fantasy fan at all, this one sounds down-to-earth enough that I might actually enjoy it.

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  5. I love all of her books. I'm an unapologetic collector of them.

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    1. I may follow your excellent example. :-)

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  6. I read this one a while ago, and while I remember enjoying it, like you I didn't care much for Rose so I never picked up any of the other books (also, I'm a little sick of series right now). I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about the next book to see if I'll return to this series or not. However, I will definitely be looking into some of George's other books.

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