Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it’s taken away. All of it. The Keeper understands. He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation. Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest. But there is a cost. The Keeper likes to keep things. Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.
So reads the inner flap of Entwined by Heather Dixon.
I picked up this novel, first, because its cover was beautiful, second, because there is no cover mention of a dashing, mysterious boy for Azalea to fall in love with (always a danger behind pretty girl-in-a-dress covers), and third, because a line on the first page describes someone who “dances like a brick.” As someone who does, indeed dance like a brick, I can empathize with that. Also, as far as similes go, that’s a pretty good one, and I am a fan of good similes.
Dancing is wholly important to Entwined, as it is based upon the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” However, though it has fairy tale roots, it is not entirely the froofy novel that one might expect. Oh, there are plenty of balls and suitors and giggling in poofy dresses and, especially, spinning around to an array of dances that no one but a ballroom dancing aficionado could recognize. Plenty. Beneath its glittery surface, though, Entwined is ultimately a story of loss, recovery, and sisterly girl power, and as fairy tale adaptations go, it’s one of the more satisfying ones out there.
Oddly for a fairy tale novel, Entwined doesn’t give many early hints that it is based upon a fairy tale, which was one of its strengths for me. There are some references to old magic that lingers in the royal family’s palace, as well as the disgustingly evil former king who magicked the place, but most of the pages are devoted to the twelve sisters and their relationships with each other and their father. There is a mother at one point, too, but in classic fairy tale fashion, she’s dead before the story even gets going. (This is not a spoiler. The moment you meet the sweet, loving, sickly mom who smells of cake and baby oil, you know she’s a goner.)
The interactions between these characters are believable and interesting, often in unanticipated ways. The sisters’ relationship with their father, while precarious, even uncomfortable at first, became one of my favorite parts of this novel. I also liked how the author managed to keep all twelve sisters present in the story. She could have easily chosen to select two or three of them to represent the whole and then shooed the rest to the background, but she didn’t. Readers do see more of oldest sisters Azalea, Bramble and Clover (The sisters are named in alphabetical order, like hurricanes), but the others appear often enough to make the reader feel the largeness and, more importantly, the closeness of the group.
Even the minor characters in this novel are well-used, even though most of them begin the story as either supreme irritations or suspiciously likable in the obvious-romantic-interest way. A character of the latter sort almost derailed my liking of the book early on. At the book’s opening ball, we meet the rumpled yet dashing Lord Bradford, who has such amazing dexterity that he can catch a falling pudding glass and leave its contents perfectly undisturbed. In my experience, when a character is rumpled, dashing, and named “Lord” anything, when he impresses the ladies with amazing feats of legerdemain, and when he appears less than 30 pages in, you know some sweet, passionate, period novel romance is coming. Usually. Luckily, Entwined does not go down this path, even though it could easily have done so. And though I was initially skeptical of him, Lord Bradford gradually earned the honor of being added to My List of Fictional Guys that I Would Totally Date If They Popped Into The Real World. Another favorite was the unfortunately named Lord Teddie Haftenravenscher, who despite his initially irritating presence rendered many scenes in which he appeared hilarious. The same is true of other suitors who show up trying to win the princesses’ hands. The cast of characters in this book is large, but each one is handled well for the purposes of the story.
The one main downside to this large cast, though, is that in a book this size, it leaves minimal room for characterization. The characters are likable and well-described, but even the princesses do not change much, except to have momentary spurts of courage or realize that they are in love. In fact, the only person who undergoes any significant change is the King, which is probably why the scenes in which he appears become some of the strongest in the book. The general staticness of the other characters’ development makes for some slow reading in parts. However, the general likability of the characters’ personalities compensates enough for that lack to make the story worth continuing, as does Dixon’s attention to random little details that render the world of her story vivid and entrancing.
Interestingly, I enjoyed most of these little details of the story more than I did the main conflict itself. Oh, yes, the princesses dancing sneakily in a magical hidden clearing with creepy-hot magical fantasy guy Keeper was kind of cool and, if the book is ever made into a film, will make for some awesome visuals. When it came down to it, though, I was more interested in the sisters and their lives than I was Keeper and his motives. And though, by the end of the novel, Keeper is meant to be a truly terrifying figure, I wasn’t as terrified by him as I would have liked to be. However, his evilness does manifest in some visually neat ways at the end, and it does allow for pretty much every character in the story to go out with one big BOO-YA!, which we do not see enough of in books (both all characters having a good send-off and actual use of the word “Boo-ya!” Not that “boo-ya” is actually said in the story, because that would be weird and out of place, but it is totally there in spirit).
Since I am a cover geek, I feel an obligation to comment on Entwined’s cover, too. As I mentioned earlier, Entwined has a beautiful cover, with wonderful curly lettering, shiny leaf-shaped silver detailing, and a back-shot of a girl in a pretty but slightly shabby-looking gown—a perfect fit for the story because silver becomes more important than one would expect, and because the princesses in question are not from a particularly rich kingdom (another element that I liked. When was the last time you saw a poor-ish princess?). As beautiful as it is, though, it is still one among many girl-in-a-dress covers that seem to be gracing the YA shelves these days, and because of that, it risks being lost between [insert book of the moment here] and all of its cousins.
Enter the savior that is Heather Dixon’s blog.
I liked Entwined enough to scour the Internet for the author’s blog, and found it at http://story-monster.blogspot.com. Dixon was (and still is) a storyboard artist before she became a published author, and as artist-writers tend to do, she produced some art in keeping with her story. My initial reaction upon finishing the book was a positive one, but after visiting the blog and seeing her art, my reaction rocketed from one that I could coherently describe to “OMG AZALEA AND BRAMBLE LOOK LIKE DISNEY PRINCESSES BUT AWESOMERRRRR!!!1!1!!lsfjsklajf jailf 😀 ”
I am totally an animated princess fangirl. Even for princesses that no one cares about anymore (Odette and Amalthea, anyone?). And Entwined’s cover, as beautiful as it is, does not exude that “THIS COULD TOTALLY BE A PRINCESS MOVIE BUT BETTER” vibe that Dixon’s art does, which is a shame. Her art isn’t even featured in the book itself, which is a greater shame. I know that the publisher is trying to appeal to the masses who can tolerate generically pretty girl-in-dress covers, as well as the audience that likes fairy tale books but shuns the illustrated ones as too childish. Still, as is, the cover and lack of illustrations are causing it to miss that valuable princess-fangirl audience (Don’t laugh. THERE ARE MORE OF US THAN YOU THINK). I’d like to see an edition of the book designed and illustrated by Dixon herself for this very reason. It would do the story better justice.
In essence, Entwined is unique among fairy tale adaptations in that it’s more interested in its characters than its magic. If you are looking for a subtly-realized book about sisterhood and light romance with a dash of magic thrown in, it’s highly recommended. It’s also recommended if you love Disney princesses and animation in general, because though it does not look it, this book is an animated classic waiting to happen.
If you’re not a fan of Heather Dixon at this point, you will be after seeing this coloring sheet that she produced:
Also, her Deviant Art page: http://betterthanbunnies.deviantart.com/
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