There are books that one reads for entertainment and a bit of fun, and then they drift away back to the library shelves.
Then there are other books that touch us in a profound way and leave some sort of lasting mark upon our minds.
"Wildwood Dancing" by Juliet Marillier was one of the latter for me, although I'm still trying to understand why. There was a depth and breadth to it that one doesn't find in most teen books. And it touched something in me on a very deep level. It's not a story I'm going to forget easily.
It is a retelling of the fairy-tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" set in Translyvania sometime when the Turks still ruled the east of Europe. Translyvania is of course an ideal place to set a fairy-tale, as magic and superstitions haunt the land even now, and certainly affect our perception of it.
Tati, Jena, Iulia, Paula and Stela are five sisters who live with their Father in a mysterious old castle at the edge of the fabled Wildwood. Every month they cast shadows on the stones of their bedroom walls and a portal opens, taking them deep into the Wildwood for a night of dancing amongst the wonderous inhabitants of Faerie. There they dance the night away, unsuspected by their father or friends (save, perhaps, their wise old housekeeper who knows well the stories of the Wildwood and the castle).
But life is not meant to remain uncomplicated. The girls' father takes ill and must spend the winter abroad, leaving their scheming and powerhungry cousin in charge of their finances and future. Then Night People (a traditional name for vampires) come to the dance in the Wildwood, bringing with them a young man who immediatly captures the heart of the beautiful Tati.
It is up to Jena and her companion, Gogu the frog, to find out the truth about the young man and the Wildwood before the destructive forces of evil on both sides (human and faerie) destroy them all.
At 400 pages this is a complex book with plenty of story to it. Plot, character, myth, humor, love, faith... there is room for it all. And with the author being recently from the field of adult literature, perhaps it is no surprise that this book rises above the average quality of teen literature.
However, "teen" does not equal "child." Though it is based on a fairy-tale, it is a coming of age story that deals with aspects of love and life that are more appropriate for those older than 16. The magical aspects are of course in keeping with fairy tales, yet they exist in a world which also holds priests and crucifixes, which may also confuse younger readers.
I enjoyed this book. It's not a simple story and it puts a fascinating and unique twist on a beloved fairy tale. Vampires in "Twelve Dancing Princesses" may seem a bit odd, but it works. And trust me, they are not glamorized the way the Twilight Vamps are.
While it may seem to give truth to the "Love at First Sight" myth, it also makes it very clear that you need to know the person you are in love with. The best and deepest love is often the one right before your eyes, even if it is hidden in an unusual disguise.
"Wildwood Dancing" is a book that will make you think, and perhaps not always make you comfortable, but if fairy-tales, love, adventures, vampires and well-written stories catch your interest, I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.