Let me start off by saying normally I wouldn’t bother reading a rewrite of a fairy tale. I like originality and most of the time you do not find that in a revised story. I did however find “Princess of the Midnight Ball” to be interesting enough to try. Jessica Day George is an author that was completely off my radar until this book came to my attention, and I am apt to research and read more of her novels after having read her rewrite of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”, originally a Brothers Grimm fairy tale in German. You can read the Grimm Brothers version of the story here. As most Grimm stories its a small short story with a dark ending. In Grimm’s version, the princesses were naughty girls going off to dance with princes underground each night until their shoes were worn out completely. The King of the realm put out a notice that anyone who can solve the mystery picks his bride and is the King of the realm after his death. An old soldier is coming home from war when stopped by an old woman, he tells her he fancies being king, and she tells him how. He ultimately wins the crown and the hand of the eldest daughter.
In George’s story, the princesses were forced to dance each night because of a deal their mother made with the “King Under Stone”. They don’t want to fool anyone and instead of drugging them to sleep like in the original story, An enchantment falls over all in the princesses rooms, to sleep until they are safe in bed again.
Another thing the author changed was the princesses all had names of flowers that their mother had given them. Flowers that had grown in her country, and flowers that could be found in the garden the King made for his Queen.
The old soldier turns into a handsome young soldier and passes an old woman on his way to town who tells him how to win, but not what he is up against. He is trying to find his family in the town, and his uncle happens to be the King’s gardener, he takes the boy to the castle to work on the garden. There he meets Rose the oldest daughter.
He quickly figures out all is not right with the princesses. The stories of shoes being ruined each night. Of course Rose can tell him nothing, part of the enchantment. An old gardener helps him along his way with herbs and ideas.
Eventually every prince in the realm has tried to figure out the secret and went home and was found dead within a week. The princesses were under suspicion of witch craft and the church comes down hard on the King and his daughters. The young solder turns gardner then asks the King if he may have a go at finding out what the princesses are doing and is granted his wish. The old gardner gave him some herbs to ward off evil and enchantment and he is able to follow the princesses.
George kept the part of silver trees in the underworld from the original story but told how they came to be there, a tidbit I won’t share with you. Of course it’s a fairy tale so everything in the end is okay, but there are some really dark twists and turns along the way.
To me this is a truly amazing retelling of one of my favorite childhood stories. The Brothers Grimm were favorites of mine as I always had a lust for the dark side of stories. I love the way George’s story is fleshed out and makes all the minute details of the original come to life. I really felt I was stuck dancing my nights away reading this book. I strongly suggest picking it up if you like a dark fairy tale.