Whimsical but slow fairy tale retelling, 2.5 stars
Heather Dixon’s fiction debut, ENTWINED, offers a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Following the death of their mother, Azalea and her eleven sisters are left nearly abandoned as their father, the King, goes off to war. Though they’re in mourning, the girls long to dance just like their mother had taught them. When the girls discover a magic-filled passage to an otherworldly pavilion, they begin to spend each night dancing to exhaustion under the watchful gaze of the Keeper. Though he appears kindly at first, the Keeper soon becomes a frightening presence that may endanger the girls and the kingdom itself.
Fans of fairy-tale retellings will likely appreciate ENTWINED’s take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, as Dixon’s version makes use of many elements from the original, including twelve girls, an invisibility cloak, and suitors who have three nights to uncover the princesses’ secret. This story offers its own whimsical touches like a magical tea set with a spunky attitude, girls named alphabetically after different plants, and a focus on the intricacies of dance steps and curtsies. Azalea comes across as a likable protagonist, and the story touches on the complexity of father-daughter relationships and how different people grieve. Even with dark notes, including a villain who is truly creepy at times, the story is also very clean and appropriate for younger readers.
Though ENTWINED had these strengths as a basis for its tale, it never caught me up in its story. Along with slow pacing for the first 400 pages, the book was too long for the story it contained. The plot sagged under the weight of the author’s ambitious attempts to characterize every character, and this led to limited character development overall. The girls’ changing relationship with their father seemed uneven, and the romances didn’t have much development or spark. The attempts to sound historical felt cliché at times, and I don’t think this novel will resonate with many young adult readers because it remains too grounded in the original tale. This book felt much more like a middle-grade read because of the very chaste romances and little in the way of truly scary parts.
Fans of the original Grimms’ tale will likely enjoy this story, even if it takes a while to get through it. Unfortunately, I didn’t experience that enjoyment. In future books, I hope that Dixon provides tighter pacing, more character development, and a bit more passion and danger.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.