Review: Entwined, Heather Dixon

“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is one of several fairy tales that I truly love and only rarely find satisfying adaptations of. That isn’t a criticism of the world and its life choices, exactly, because I can see how “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” would be difficult to adapt well. It’s an odd little story, and the ending’s not the best ever, and even when I do read adaptations of it, I rarely feel they’ve done a good job exploring the potential of the original story. That was the case with Entwined, even though I did enjoy it.

Azalea is the oldest of eleven girls. Their mother, who teaches them dances and plays with them and eats meals with them, is pregnant with a twelfth child and very ill. She dies giving birth to the twelfth princess, and the princesses are left with their cold, distant father. He barely acknowledges them and orders that the whole house go into mourning for a year, which means, essentially, nobody gets to do anything fun. Dancing — now strictly forbidden — is the one thing that still makes the girls feel connected to their mother. Almost by accident, they discover a magic passage that leads to a place where they can dance all night under the auspices of a mysterious man called Keeper. But Keeper may not be what he seems.

What I liked: I really loved the development of the relationship between the king and his daughters. At the beginning of the book, he can barely speak to them, referring to them as “Miss” and insisting on a strictly regimented lifestyle. In a book where many of the characters were underdeveloped, it was nice to see the gradual reveal that the king cared about the girls and wanted the best for them. This all leads to some fairly touching moments in the climactic battle and denouement. Out of everything in the book, this plotline felt by far the most genuine.

I also thought some of the creepy moments were pleasingly creepy. (Highlight the following if you don’t mind spoilers.) Azalea finds that Keeper has imprisoned her mother’s soul when she sees her mother in the underground dance floor with her mouth sewn shut. Urgh. Also when Keeper is trying to make Azalea do what he wants, he traps all of her sisters in mirrors. Isn’t it nice how mirrors have a seemingly endless capacity to be creepy?

What I didn’t like: The system of magic by which the story was run didn’t hang together all that well. I didn’t have a good sense of what sort of thing was permitted by this system of magic, and how a person would go about fighting it. The idea was that magic was sort of gone from the kingdom but not really — I don’t know, I could have used more backstory and a clearer picture of how magic worked and what everybody thought about it. I felt like a lot of potential for interesting story was missed here.

The sisters, of course, were indistinguishable apart from the top three, but that would be hard to avoid, with twelve of them. The suitors who came along were entertaining (esp. Lord Teddy because really, who doesn’t like nice young men who say “Dash it all” all the time?), but their relationships to the girls felt cardboardy, something the author put in because she felt she must, and because the fairy tale called for menfolk. Nor were they particularly well-integrated into the larger story. Dropping them wouldn’t have made any difference to the climax, which is never a good sign.

All in all, it was a fun fairy tale retelling — I love fairy tale retellings — that didn’t take full advantage of all the storylines and plot ideas it contained. But I still liked it and even teared up at the end, because, well, I am just susceptible to emotional moments with parents and their kids.

Numerous other people have read this, as the Book Blogs Search Engine‘s several pages of results will tell you. I missed seeing Anastasia‘s post on it earlier this month, which is weird because she posted about it around the same time that I was reading it. I don’t know how I missed it.

35 thoughts on “Review: Entwined, Heather Dixon

  1. Robin McKinley did, indeed, write one: it’s in the short story collection The Door in the Hedge. I liked it, but I would love to see her make a novel of it instead. I suppose it is the difficulty of giving TWELVE PRINCESSES actual personalities that stops her πŸ˜›

    I didn’t even know highlightable spoilers existed! That is so cool! Also, I want a copy of The Knot in the Grain for my birthday. That’s my list.

  2. Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my most beloved fairy tales too! Have you read Wildwood Dancing? It’s not nearly as good as her Daughter of the Forest, but I liked it.

    • I don’t think I’ve read more than Wildwood Dancing & the Daughter of the Forest trilogy. πŸ™‚ I really enjoyed Wildwood, it just didn’t blow me away like Daughter!

    • I think I read Daughter of the Forest and failed to be blown away by it, and Anna said that was her best book so I just gave up after that. But maybe I should give her another try. Sometimes my initial judgments about books are wrong.

  3. Twelve Dancing Princesses was totally my favorite fairy tale ever! You’re so right that magic, even though magic, still has to cohere somehow. And the spoilery section – reminds me of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo!

    • It does, or else you never feel like it’s real. If the author doesn’t know the rules then THERE ARE NO RULES. And rules are what make magic interesting.

  4. I have never read The Twelve Dances Princesses but this re-telling actually sounds rather interesting to me . It’s sort of disappointing that the male characters are not more of a credit to the story, but when I read your creepy spoiler, I thought that this one might be something that I would enjoy.

  5. This is a fairy tale I have seen lots of rewritings of. I have read one by Juliet Marillier and then Jessica Day George has one, too, that was fun. I think I will add this one to my wish list.

    • I’d never heard of the Jessica Day George one before writing this post and now I’m reading about it everywhere! So I’ll have to go forth and investigate.

  6. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a great story, with endless ways in which it can be rewritten to be especially creepy and cool. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel version of the story, just different picture books, but I always liked them. I’m curious about this book!

  7. You’re right, that fairytale does get a lot of retelling. Jeanette Winterson does it in one of her books, Sexing the Cherry, I think but I could be wrong. I loved her using the concept, but even she can’t quite find a way to make the best of it. I am a quiet fan of retold fairy tales, having loved Angela Carter’s versions and enjoyed a Sharon Hays novel.

    • Yes! I need to read Sexing the Cherry! I only have read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (which was very good indeed) and Weight (which I did not like so much).

      Who is Sharon Hays? Am I missing out greatly by not knowing about this person?

  8. Have you read the picture book version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Ruth Sanderson? My aunt and uncle gave me it when I was a kiddo and I LOVED it. The illustrations are amazing.

    • I don’t, I’m afraid. I’ve heard too many hipster jokes involving Kale now. But I expect I could be made to change my mind if I read a book with a really cool protagonist called Kale.

  9. There’s got to be a better K name than Kale. A little research reveals Kennedia, native to Australia, a sort of climbing sweet pea. But Kale?

    The Twelve Dancing Princesses is also maybe my own favorite fairy tale, mostly because of the silver and gold and diamond trees and the heavy boat and the youngest princess who can’t quite figure out what’s hinky with the situation. I’d love to read a really good retelling of it.

    • Hahahahahahaha, Kudzu would have been amazing. I’m heartbroken she didn’t use Kudzu.

      Your very most favorite of all? Even though the poor things don’t get to keep going to their nice underground dancing place? I always felt sorry for them over that.

      • Maybe. I’m trying to think if there’s a more favorite. Tam Lin isn’t a fairy tale and doesn’t count and wouldn’t count anyway because it’s really the retellings that are good anyway, not so much the original.

        I never thought about them not getting to go back and dance. I suppose I always assumed that now that their father knew, they could go back in a nice parentally-sanctioned way, with fresh shoes.

  10. I think reading Trickster and then Tales of Beedle the Bard both made me want to read many more fairy tales (retellings or original tellings or otherwise), so I am glad to know about this book. I love the oral history of these kinds of stories!

    • Me too — I am actually just now reading a book about the history of the bogeyman in literature and stories and art, and it’s very cool. I know this same author has written about fairy tale heroines in another book, which I’m hoping to get soon.

  11. Love this fairy tale. I read Wildwood Dancing a couple of years ago and thought it was pretty dang terrific. I liked it so much that I went and bought my own copy, in hardcover to boot! I read Sexing the Cherry, but I read it too young and I barely understood any of it.

    Twelve princesses is really a lot of princesses to keep up with, so I can see why she’d want to name them in alphabetical order. But that poor princess named after cabbage!

    • See now, Other Jenny, your having liked Wildwood Dancing makes me feel like I was just wrong about Juliet Marillier. If you like her, surely I must like her. I’ve decided, I shall try her again.

      Not even the most delicious type of cabbage!

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