*Entwined, by Heather Dixon. Greenwillow, 2011, 472 pages.
Reading Level: Young Adult, ages 12-15
Bottom Line: Entwined is a fairy-tale romance for teens that deftly makes profound points about relationships, love and marriage.
The royal family of Eathesbury is rich in girls, but not much else. On the night Princess Azalea is to host her first Yuletide ball, her mother delivers a daughter–girl number twelve–before dying of an illness that’s been ravaging her for months. The family is cast into a yearlong official mourning period made darker by the girls’ father’s coldness and apparent lack of interest in them. Just when the three oldest are eligible for gentlemen callers, and Azalea herself, as Princess Royale, should be looking for a consort-to-be, everybody is swathed in black and not allowed to dance, which is the thing they love best. (As did their mother.) Then they discover a secret passage to an underground forest, leading to a magic pavilion where a mysterious gentleman called the Keeper presides. Dark, tall, and devastatingly handsome, he invites them to return every night and dance their cares away. But such hospitality comes at a price, involving captured souls, the legendary evil High King, the blood oath, the silver oath, and the deepest sort of magic that has no name. The complex dance that Keeper proposes could steal their souls if old hurts are not healed and new alliances are not kindled.
If the plotline sounds familiar, it’s based on the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, one of my favorite fairy tales as a pre-teen because it involved so many fancy dresses! The retold story is slightly tousled, like Azalea’s auburn hair: a bit hard to follow and overlong at first. But I came to like these people so much it was a pleasure spending time with them. Set in a vaguely Victorian milieu, the girls are so proper they gasp when their father says the word “Undergarments” out loud, and the courtships of Azalea and her sister Clover are so circumspect we’re almost begging their suitors to “Just kiss her!” The story has its darker side, and some scenes are genuinely frightening. But I very much like the vision of dance as a metaphor for marriage: Mother had told her of that perfect twining into one. She called it the interweave, and said it was hard to do, for it took the perfect matching of the partners’ strengths to overshadow each others’ weaknesses, meshing into one glorious dance. Dance also serves as a metaphor for relationship, joy in living, soul. It’s not a Christian novel; though Mass and Christmas are celebrated they seem to have no relevance to life. The writing is often lovely, slightly quirky and humorous. It celebrates not only balls and poufy dresses but ordinary things: She wanted to give him toast. The sort that had melted butter and a bit of honey spread on top. It was a stupid thought, but there was something comforting about toast. In fact, the joy of the ordinary is where true magic resides: it’s the devil who plays supernatural tricks. That’s actually typical of the best stories of the genre: all fairy tales end when the hero comes home.
Overall Rating: 4.75 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4.5
- Artistic value: 5
Categories: Young Adult, Fairy Tale, Romance, Starred Review, Life Issues