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Juliet Marillier – Wildwood Dancing

January 6, 2012

166. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (2006)

Read By: Kim Mai Guest
Length: 432 pages

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Started: 08 December 2011
Finished: 29 December 2011

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Corinne’s fault.

Five sisters learn that
life is not a fairy tale,
and no gifts come free.

Summary: Jena and her sisters have always been warned to stay out of the woods surrounding their home: dangerous creatures live there, and their cousin Costi drowned in a pond during a childish game. However, the five girls have a secret – on the full moon, they’re able to open a portal into the faerie woods, for a night of dancing and celebration with the folk of the forest. When Jena is 15, though, their father becomes ill and is taken to the coast for the winter to recover his health. Jena tries to keep things in order, but her sister has fallen for a mysterious and potentially dangerous man she met at one of the full-moon dances; her cousin Cezar seems intent on taking over not only the household, but also the lives of the girls; fear among the neighbors, drummed up by Cezar, is threatening the future of the Wildwood; and the only friend Jena has to turn to is her pet frog, Gogu. How can she manage to save not only herself and her sisters, but also the entirety of the faerie realm?

Review: This book had a lot of things going for it – most prominently the way it wove together a number of fairy tales into one historical Eastern European backdrop – and there wasn’t anything really wrong with it. However, I felt like it always was missing some spark that would make truly unputdownable, and as a result, while I enjoyed it, I felt like it could have been more than it was.

The characterizations were well-done; Jena was a independent but not infallible narrator, her sisters all had distinct (if somewhat two-dimentional) personalities, and Cezar was a realistically drawn but still incredibly menacing villain. (Not that he starts out as a bad guy – Cezar’s motivations and decisions, and the path on which they lead him, form one of the most complex and fascinating aspects of the book.) The relationships among the characters felt real, with a good eye for some of the more subtle nuances that could easily have been ignored. The fairy realm was also well done, with a clear sense of magic and wonder, but also a distinct undercurrent of danger and darkness, where bargains must be carefully worded, and every gift has its price.

I also really enjoyed all of the elements of various fairy tales that cropped up throughout, and how Marillier managed to make the entire book fit the rhythm and feel of the old stories. However, this also worked against the novel: because the rhythm of fairy tales is so familiar, it meant that the ending of this one was pretty predictable, even from fairly early on. That meant that at times this book felt kind of slow, and parts where Jena was pondering the identity of the green-eyed man from her visions, or waffling about what to do about her sisters felt overly dragged-out, since the answer should be obvious to anyone who was ever told a bedtime story. Technically, since Jena was living at a time when such stories were still being written, I can’t really fault her for not knowing, but I still felt like there were places where I wanted the story to get to the point a little faster.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I had somewhat of a mixed reaction. Kim Mai Guest does a nice job of differentiating the voices, and providing an appropriately-froggy-but-not-overly-silly voice for Gogu. It was also nice to hear all of the names pronounced correctly… but she also frequently carried that pronunciation over into the rest of the prose, so that many lines were read with a vaguely Eastern European accent, but some were not. It was distracting, more so than it would have been to have the whole thing read in an unaccented voice, and makes me inclined to recommend the text version rather than the audio. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: For fans of fairy tale retellings, especially those in a realistic historical setting, it’s definitely worth trying.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Book Nest, The Bookling, Bookshelves of Doom, Confessions of a Bibliovore, Rhinoa’s Ramblings, The Written World, and a lot more at the Book Blog Search Engine
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First Line: I’ve heard it said that girls can’t keep secrets.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2012 9:25 am

    I’ve just finished this book too and felt exactly the same as you! I adored the Sevenwaters trilogy, but found that Wildwood Dancing was missing a certain something to make it as great. I liked what Juliet Marillier did, I just wanted her to do more with it, if that makes any sense at all.

    • January 7, 2012 9:25 am

      Katie – I’d never heard of Marillier before this book, but I liked it enough to consider reading more of her stuff. Sevenwaters trilogy, you say? I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  2. January 6, 2012 11:44 am

    I read this ages ago and mostly enjoyed it. There is a sequel, though, and it has just been sitting on my TBR pile since its release… I guess I just want to read other books more.

    • January 7, 2012 9:28 am

      Kailana – I had no idea there was a sequel… I wonder where she takes the story, since I thought the ending left things at a good stopping point.

  3. January 7, 2012 2:35 pm

    Oh this sounds great! I might have to add this one to the TBR.

  4. January 13, 2012 4:08 pm

    I listened to it too! I actually read it to finish, though, and I was glad that I’d listened for part of the time so I could know how to pronounce things :)

  5. January 13, 2012 10:22 pm

    I love this book–the characters and the weaving of the fairy tales and the cute romance…love love love. Obviously whatever spark was missing for you ignited for me! :) I agree it was fairly predictable. The twist with Gogu was not much of a twist. But it was lovely anyway. It was one of my first encounters with a novel-length 12 Dancing Princesses retelling, so it might have felt a little more fresh to me.

    The sequel is excellent as well. Mostly very separate from the first, it focuses on Jena’s sister Paula and her own adventure. I also recommend Heart’s Blood, it’s a stand-alone that’s very good.

  6. January 23, 2012 8:45 am

    Reblogged this on The BookBimbo Chronicles and commented:
    More Juliet Marillier, haven’t read it myself, but it looks interesting.

  7. February 2, 2012 9:27 am

    I also listened to the audio edition of Wildwood Dancing and I was intrigued enough to look for the sequel because of the strong female main character, and because I liked the narrator’s accent. I didn’t really hold the “predictable” twists against the book, because I think some of the clues for these twists stand out more when listening than when reading, where a reader is going along faster and every part of every sentence doesn’t receive equal emphasis. Also it’s a young adult book, and I do think plot development tends to be telegraphed more in a book intended for a young adult audience.
    I never got around to reviewing Wildwood Dancing, so thank you for your review and the recommendations from commenters!

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