Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Today, I purchased my very own copy of PRINCESS OF THE MIDNIGHT BALL by Jessica Day George. I finished reading the library's copy last night, and I liked it so well that I wanted my very own copy to hold and love and call George. And now I have one, to go onto my "damn, I wish I'd written that book" shelf. And yes, I have such a book shelf.
Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses*. On the one hand, it's a faithful retelling, and on the other, it's a highly creative one. You see, Jessica Day George's creative angle comes from telling the story in third person, but closely following the character of Galen, the undergardener who proves to be the hero. At first he's merely a soldier on his way to Bruch after the end of the war, but it rapidly becomes clear that he is both kind (in sharing what he has with an old woman along the way) and on his way to great adventure (judging by the advice given to him by that same woman - who knows his name without being told it and gives him an invisibility cloak). Jessica Day George, you had me at hello.
Galen (great name, btw) arrives in town where he seeks out his only living relatives, and scores a job working for his uncle in the royal garden, where he quickly becomes fond of the eldest princess, named Rose, after startling her into (and fishing her out of) a fountain. He quickly befriends Walter, an old, peg-legged gardener who is not quite what he appears to be. And he starts to worry about the poor princesses, who keep wearing out their dancing shoes. He worries about all of them, but especially about Rose, who spent a great deal of time being terribly ill, and he sets out to determine what's going on, and to save them. Along the way, he deals with King Gregor (Gregor! Again! I know!), and with the evil Bishop (and, in fairness, with the good one, too), and oh yeah - with the King Under Stone and his twelve sons.
All the while, Galen spends time knitting. Not like Madame Defarge, either, but in a quiet, heroic sort of way. There's even an afterword with notes on men knitting, along with two knitting patterns and a handy-dandy pronunciation guide. I loved Galen and Rose and several of the other princesses, particularly Pansy and Lily, and Walter the gardener and the mystical old lady and bewildered, beleaguered King Gregor and the kind Dr. Kelling and Bishop Schelker and I completely despised the evil Bishop Angier and the awful, tricksy King Under Stone. And I am altogether charmed and in love with this book and intending to learn how to knit. I'll be rereading this one soon to see how Ms George worked her magic.
*My favorite version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses is by Marianna Mayer, although my real love comes from my adoration of the illustrations by Kinuko Y. Craft, in case you were wondering.