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Wildwood Dancing    by Juliet Marillier order for
Wildwood Dancing
by Juliet Marillier
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2007 (2007)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Juliet Marillier, high on my list of must read fantasy authors since she released Daughter of the Forest (a marvelous take on the legend of the girl who labors to save her six brothers after they're turned into swans by an evil sorceress) now brings us a YA re-telling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the twelve dancing princesses (and she throws in the one about the princess and the frog for good measure).

She moves from her usual island settings this time to spooky Transylvania ('a region rich in mythology and folklore' which the author talks about in a Note at the end of the book). There, sixteen-year-old Jena (the narrator, whose close companion is a fearful frog named Gogu) lives with her four sisters in the crumbling castle of Piscul Dracului (Devil's Peak), alongside a tract of wildwood. Years before, the motherless girls found a portal into the Other Kingdom, and each Full Moon, they dress in fine gowns to dance the night away with dwarf, gargoyle, goblin, witch, and all other kinds of fairy folk. The girls happily anticipate their monthly outings, and Jeni appreciates Gogu's friendship and advice - they commuicate mentally, and she tells us that ever since she found him in the forest, 'I had known I could trust him more than anyone else in the world.'

But change is a part of any life, and soon disrupts theirs. Father, a merchant, is too ill to winter with them and leaves for the Black Sea coast. Jena will run the business, helped by her Uncle Nicolae and cousin Cezar, while her elder sister Tati mothers the younger girls. Their moonlit revels change also, darkened by the presence of the Night People, reputed to drink human blood. Jena fears for her sister when Tatiana falls hard for one of them, named Sorrow. And then everything begins to fall apart. Cezar, whose older brother Costi drowned in the Deadwash (a lake deep in the forest) when Jena was five years old, has been obsessed with his hatred for the supernatural ever since. In their father's long absence and serious illness, he gradually takes control of the sisters' lives - Cezar plans to destroy the wildwood, and all who live within it.

As Cezar becomes suspicious of the girls' monthly excusions, and Tati steadily wastes away, it's up to Jena and Gogu to seek help from the powerful witch of the wood. Draguta tells her, 'Trust your instincts ... And remember nothing comes without a price.' Jena makes mistakes but in the end she works out what to do to give her sister 'her sun and moon, her stars and her dreams', and in the process finds her own true love as well. I highly recommend Wildwood Dancing to you as a marvelous, magical, thoroughly satisfying read.

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