Juliet Marillier – Wildwood Dancing
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.
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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