Book Review : Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Jena and her sisters came to live at Piscul Dracului, an old stone castle, about nine years ago. By chance they found a portal to enter the Other Kingdom and have gone to dance with the fairy creatures nearly every full moon without anyone discovering their secret. Gogu, who is a frog and Jena’s best friend, knows their secret, but he won’t tell anyone. The sisters lives turn upside down when their father becomes ill and must travel abroad to recover. Danger comes in their lives at home as well as in the Other Kingdom when the Night People arrive.
Adult Point of View
Wildwood Dancing reminds me of a collection of fairy tales which includes, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Baba Yaga (in the novel named Dragutsa), The Princess and the Frog and stories of Tatiana and Oberon (in the novel their characters are named Ileana and Marin). The connection of Dragutsa and Baba Yaga is tenuous, the similarity being the nasty side of a trick on humans, such as allowing a child to believe that his brother is dead. As is common in fairy tales there are dark undertones, in this case, both in the Other Kingdom and the human world. I enjoyed how Jena exhibits a great amount of sense when viewing others and is blind to her own foibles (oh, so true in life too).
The setting feels very true to the 1500s with the exception of allowing the daughters to care for themselves in their father’s absence. Of course, he is described as being eccentric to account for the freedom given to the girls, and there really wouldn’t have been a story if the girls were under lock and key. The atmosphere of both the castle set in Transylvania and the Other Kingdom are delicious. I was very happy that the Night People are never called vampires, and the story doesn’t really dwell upon them but is a coming of age story for Jena as she matures. Jena’s other sisters are not as well developed, but are, in essence, a caricature. There is the pretty sister, the flirt, the studious one and the cute little one. Even Jena could be considered a caricature as the sensible one until her character fills out. I am glad that Jena has her dreams of wanting to travel, I can relate! Sorrow also felt like a shadow of a real person and I didn’t feel invested in him and his trials. However, I loved Gogu, who was full of spunk and deep feelings that continued to be visible after his transformation.
I would recommend this book and am looking forward to reading more of this Australian’s novels. Even girls in about 5th or 6th grade might enjoy this book. As way of a warning, there is one slightly gruesome scene of a dead man and another known murder.
5 stars out of 5
– the Mother
If you enjoyed Wildwood Dancing you should also enjoy The Blue Sword, Beauty or Spindle’s End by Robin McKinley, and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. The Seven Realm series by Cinda Williams Chima might be another possibility, though it is not a retold fairy tale.