Princess of Glass, by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury, 2010, YA, 288 pages) is a delightful Cinderella re-telling. The curse of the 12 Dancing Princess having been broken (see Princess of the Midnight Ball), young Princess Poppy and her sisters have been dispersed amongst the principalities of their European-esque world to strengthen political alliances. Marrying foreign dignitaries is, of course, one possible path toward alliance strengthening--but Poppy feels much too young to start thinking along those lines. Instead, she's trying to enjoy her visit with distant cousins. Even though she refuses to dance (she's had enough dancing to last a long time), she whiles away her time at balls and parties honing her card shark skills (which are considerable). Prince Christian's arrival from a northern court enhances life more than a little...and romance is in the air...
But a sinister magic is at work in the background. Another girl, Eleanora, forced to work as a maid after her noble father's disgraceful bankruptcy, has fallen under the thrall of dark spellworking. Her "fairy godmother" has promised her Prince Christian...and sends her off to the balls, begowned more gloriously than any princess, with her feet encased in shoes of glass.
The enchantments surrounding Eleanora blind all who see her--they can think of nothing but her charms. But Poppy, who has warded herself against dark magic (since she's been there, done that, and doesn't want to again) can see through the glamour. And so can Roger, who loved Eleanora years ago. Together Poppy and Roger work to break the magic spells that has ensnared her, but Poppy's skill with knitted charms and Roger's incomplete knowledge of potions are weak weapons against a malevolent fairy godmother, hell-bent on seeing her protege marry the prince. Whatever the cost...
This is my favorite Jessica Day George book to date, and in large part it's because I loved Poppy to pieces! It was a treat to see her in her own book. She's beautifully idiosyncratic, sweet and smart, and I cheered for her throughout. The prince comes off not so well--a bit of a stock Charming Prince--but then again, he's befuddled for part of the time by Eleanora's enchantments, so doesn't get that much page time to really be himself.
Plot-wise, there were a few things that I thought didn't work so well--in particular, I didn't understand why Eleanora ended up as a maid after her father lost all his money. It seemed unlikely that [one character in particular] wouldn't have taken her in....or at least helped her. And the motivation of the evil godmother felt a bit forced. But happily, I was able to gloss over such issues while reading the lovely descriptions of dress and balls and knitted charms and card games, and wondering if Poppy would ever dance again......and shuddering, just a little, at the glass slipper end of things--molten glass is not my own shoe medium of choice.
Speaking of knitted charms, these are so prominently featured in the book that I am tempted to count this book as a textile fantasy, which I am amassing a bibliography of (this post has my list to date). There are even instructions at the end that tell you how to knit your own! But in the end, I think not--I'm looking more for books in which the craft and art of the textiles is an integral part of the story or the main character's life. With Poppy, it's more a useful knack. Still, I'll stick the textile fantasy label on it...because it's really cool.
Here's another review, at Becky's Book Reviews.
Note on age: The age of the characters (in their teens) and the interest in romance (although very much the falling into, rather than the consummating, side of romance) makes this YA ish. But there's nothing unsuitable for middle grade readers--the dark magic side of things is not all that dark.
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)