Princess of the Midnight Ball
by Jessica Day George
Returning from the war, a young soldier named Galen meets an old woman who asks for help. After Galen shares his meager food with her, she gives him gifts: a cloak that renders the wearer invisible, and two balls of wool: one white and one black. Galen has been a soldier his entire life, having grown up on the front, but now that the war is over he’s headed to Bruch, the capital city of Westfalin, in hope of finding work with his mother’s family.
In Bruch, Galen becomes an under-gardener in the palace. Galen soon learns that all is not well with the royal family: something is going on with the King’s twelve daughters. They don’t appear well, and every night their dancing slippers are worn out, in spite of being locked into their rooms. After a chance encounter with the oldest princess, Rose, Galen is determined to try to do something to help. But what can a lowly gardener possibly do against the supernatural forces threatening the princesses?
Princess of the Midnight Ball is a lovely retelling of the fairy tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Jessica Day George doesn’t break much new ground here – it follows the original fairy tale pretty closely – but she fills in the details nicely, making for an enjoyable read. Princess of the Midnight Ball is peopled with some interesting characters, most notably, the knitting soldier/gardener Galen. Day George explains in an afterword that far from being women’s work, knitting used to be the exclusive province of men. In a fun twist, Day George also provides the knitting patterns for two of the items Galen makes in the story. I also liked that, rather than idly waiting to be rescued, the princesses did what they could to contribute to saving themselves.
With twelve princesses, creating distinct characters for each one is a difficult task, and I had trouble keeping them all straight. A few of the princesses stood out in my mind, but many of them blended together. Day George did an admirable job of giving them each individual personalities given the number of princesses and the short length of the book; I think the only way to really solve this problem would be to reduce the number of princesses, as Juliet Marillier did with Wildwood Dancing.
Overall, Princess of the Midnight Ball is a fun read that will be enjoyed by fans of fairy tale retellings.
Princess of the Midnight Ball will be released January 20, 2009.