Why live in the light, when the night seems so irresistible?
This is the question that "The Midnight Dancers" both asks and answers. The pull of the night lures twelve sisters out of their home of strict rules and dress codes into a tantalizing world of dancing, moonlight, and dashing "princes." But people are not always what they seem, and danger lurks in the darkness, waiting for one wrong step...
In her latest book Regina Doman retells the beloved fairy-tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses." Only instead of princesses, we are introduced to the twelve daughters of Robert and Sally Durham. The Durhams, unlike previous heroines (who were all Catholic), belong to an extremely conservative Protestant church. The restrictions and limitations leave the girls with little to do and much to wish for. And the eldest daughter, Rachel, decides to make their wishes come true.
When the girls discover a secret passageway in their bedroom, they realize that they can slip out of the house at night without their parents knowledge. Quickly, swimming gives way to boating- and since the Durhams have no boats of their own, they must enlist the help of their guy friends. Of course this adds a whole new layer of forbiddenness to their midnight excursions.
Twelve girls cannot dance the night away without being tired, nor can they contain a secret without their parents guessing that something is amiss. The concerned parents try everything they can think of to discover the secret but without success. At last, Mr. Durham enlists the help of a young friend from his military days.
Enter Paul Fester. Fans of the previous Fairy-Tale novels will recognize Paul from Waking Rose as one of ninja/knights belonging to the Sacra Cor. Paul is a honest, straight forwards young man- not the kind of person that the girls would include on their nighttime adventures. So Paul must find another way to follow them.
However a big part of this story is the trust between parent and child. And Paul wants the girls to tell their father themselves. He begins to win over the younger girls by involving them in his juggling act which they greatly enjoy. Rachel, however, remains suspicious and hostile towards him and as the eldest, she is the one that must decide to reveal the secret. This, of course is the last thing that she wants to do...
Like the other fairy tale novels, this story brilliantly combines the familiar of the everyday with the enchantment of extraordinary happenings. Unlike the other books, however, there is more depth and less mystery, which makes a story that is more thought-provoking, though no less engaging.
What Paul understands is that the girls flee to the darkness because they have not been introduced to the beauty of the light. The restrictions of their parents (and church) have left them with little to occupy their time. Their reading material is severely limited- and Rachel, who is quite adept with her needle, would love to be a fashion designer, but knows her father would never let her. Without things to interest them and occupy their time in an engaging way, the girls become bored and turn to other, more dangerous things for amusement.
There is a lot to ponder in this. At what point does adherence to biblical standards become legalism? What are the dangers of legalism? Why is it good to have activities and hobbies besides simply work and exercise?
The other area that Regina explores is beauty. With her extreme conservative teaching, Rachel has been taught to believe that feminine beauty can be sinful. Paul must teach her to understand that it is not her beauty that is a sin, but rather the way men have been taught to perceive women.
It is a daring book. To show the problems of anyone's way of life is a risky thing- and yet, it can often be a very necessary thing. As someone who has interacted quite a bit with this world of extreme conservatism (and I would call myself conservative), I can see the truth that Regina is trying to tell.
It is also important to note that this is not a book written against Protestants. It is a book that examines a certain way of life - but it could be true for any group of extreme conservatisim. Paul is a Catholic, and he talks a bit about his faith with the girls, but he never tries to convert them. He answers their questions, but respects their fears. I felt this was an extremely insightful and respectful portrayal of the miscommunications that often occur between Protestants and Catholics and I very much respect Regina for being so careful.
This book, though lacking some of the action of the earlier novels, should be in no way counted as inferior. In fact, about halfway through reading it, I stopped and said to myself "this is brilliant." The problem with books today is that many authors don't seem to be able to combine an intriguing storyline with ideas to ponder without turning it into a sermon or coming off as cliché. "The Midnight Dancers", however, is both light and depth, adventure and wisdom. The story doesn't stop when the ideas enter- the ideas propel the story.
And there is action. The climax is just as dangerous and intense as the earlier novels. In fact, it is somewhat darker and I would slightly caution younger readers. This book- both because of the intellectual depth and the nature of the climax will appeal most to young adults and is best suited for that audience. (Although I think parents will enjoy it greatly as well!)