Entwined, by Heather Dixon (Greenwillow, mg/ya, 472 pages)
The Twelve Dancing Princesses is pretty much the It fairy tale of the last few years--I can think of at least four others that have recently been published.* (Kate at Book Aunt wrote in her review of this one that she can think of five....there may well be more! But Entwined brought enough that was fresh and new and interesting to make it an enjoyable read, lighthearted but with a satisfying build-up to the Darkness-to-be-Overcome-ness at the end.
Here's what I liked:
Dixon was clearly interested in just how and why the spell on the princesses were cast, and builds up to it nicely. There's a mystery behind it all, one that the Lead Princess (Azalea) must solve, before it is too late. Fortunately she has wits and spunk, and isn't afraid to use them. I liked getting to know the princesses before whole dancing thing got going.
The character of the Brave Soldier who follows the Princesses and solves everything etc. is here, but in this case, although he is a worthy man, he is definitely several rungs below Azalea and her sisters in terms of saving things, and there's not automatic guarantee he's going to end up with a princess (again, it's up to her!)
I've said it before, but 12 sisters really is too many to properly characterize each one. Dixon makes a noble effort, thought, and does convey the strong sibling bonds between them. Their father is also interestingly complex, and his relationship with his daughters (such as it is) brings in a bit of emotional depth.
Finally, I enjoyed the brightness of the story-telling. The sentences are on the shorter side, the vocabulary relatively simple, and there were moments that made me chuckle. There was also a set of very endearing magical sugar tongs...The language ("oh, stuff it!" says one sister), and the food (lemon tarts, for instance) and the Christmas ball (which sits a little uneasily beside the enchantments, but whatever) added something of a jolly Edwardian feel to the book**, which I enjoyed (especially as it is a jolliness that, as is fitting, is balanced by moments of bleakness, both emotional and viz the Conflict with Evil!).
In short, a book that's just dandy for the middle grade crowd, and a pleasant light read for the older crowd.
That being said, it is not a book for everyone, and I think you have to be in the right mood for it. If you are unsure whether you are in the right mood or not, or what that right mood might be, read Eva's thoughts on the first six pages (at Eva's Book Addiction) and see if you nod in sad agreement with her or not.
*Bother. I could think of four other 12 D.P. retellings when I started this post, and now can only remember three....Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George, The Thirteenth Princess, by Diane Zahler, and Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier.
**I think I would have picked up on the Edwardian feel without having read Kate's review first, but just in case I wouldn't have, Kate said this first.