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Dance the Entwine
on 25 August 2011
Robin McKinley, Gail Carson Levine, Juliet Marillier, Patricia Wrede, Shannon Hale -- a lot of excellent fantasy writers have written adaptations of fairy tales.
And if you had to ask me, Heather Dixon might be added to the list sometime soon. Her debut novel "Entwined" is a silken tangle of family drama, magical happenings, romance and mild tragicomedy -- she gives a voice and personality to each one of the twelve dancing princesses, as well as a lusciously beautiful little kingdom filled with silvery beauty.
Azalea and her sisters are devastated when their warm-hearted mother dies during the Yuletide Ball. The grief-stricken King avoids his daughters and goes off to war, but not before he makes it clear that for the year of mourning, there will be NO DANCING. This devastates the girls, since their mother taught them every dance they know, and they see it as honoring her memory.
And one night, they find a magical passage under the castle, leading to a dancing pavilion in a silver forest. The mysterious Keeper allows them to come and dance every night, but Azalea soon discovers that he wants something from them -- something that could set the sinister man free. And as the King advertises for a man who can find the princesses' dancing place, Azalea discovers the horrifying truth of the Keeper's true identity...
Twelve sprightly princesses, an ancient castle riddled with magic, and a midnight dance in a silver forest. "Entwined" more or less follows the basic plot outline of the traditional fairy tale, but Heather Dixon fleshes it out with some new twists -- such as the undead Keeper, the rigid King's feud with his neglected daughters, and the reasons that the princesses are so desperate to dance.
Dixon's writing is sublime, managing to be magically ethereal and robust at the same time. Her dialogue has a slight British archness (even from characters with Germanic names), and her descriptions are shimmering, exquisite little things of satin, jewels and silver.
And despite all the grief and mourning, Dixon inserts some mild comedy into her story -- the suitors who pursue the princesses are handled in a hilarious way, especially one guy who's sent two kingdoms away on a wild goose chase. But she also excels at the creepier moments, which become more pronounced as we find out more creepy things about the Keeper ("He looked like a black, serpentine cobweb on the lattice").
And while she has a pretty large cast to flesh out, Dixon gives each of the princesses a distinct personality -- particular Azalea is an earnest, kindly young girl who just wants to protect her little sisters. The Keeper is a charming elegant gentleman who becomes more monstrous with every appearance, while Mr. Bradford is a quiet, sweet young gentleman who is obviously perfect for Azalea.
"Entwined" entwines its readers in a lush, haunting fantasy riddled with terrifying moments and robust comedy -- and you never quite know what Heather Dixon will pull out next. A delightful read.