Also Titled… “Further Thoughts on the Princesses of Westfalin and Their Trilogy”
Remember that time when I reviewed Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Silver Wood? Funny thing: Jessica Day George herself actually responded to it on Twitter. George mentioned that I was missing a few details. I thought that Silver Wood was a standalone novel, when in fact it’s the third of a series. That made it only appropriate for me to go back, read all three books in succession, and then revise my thoughts. And that’s what brings us here today.
The books, in order, are The Princess of the Midnight Ball, The Princess of Glass, and The Princess of the Silver Woods. They follow the twelve dancing princesses from the Grimm’s tale of the same title, with a focus on Rose, the oldest; Poppy, one of the middle sisters; and Petunia, the youngest, respectively. While I wish George had written more books in this series, her choice of princesses to center her books on is deliberate and well-done. (The fact that I was reading a book about the youngest princess should have been a clue to me that I was at the tail end of a series, but you’ll have to forgive me.)
As previously stated, Jessica Day George drops delicious hints throughout the trilogy, marking out what she’s retelling. She also captures the dark and gritty ambience of the old fairytales (when appropriate), creating villains that make even the most even-keeled uncomfortable. The King Under Stone is creepy, not only because he’s powerful, but because he expects the princesses to marry the princes and give him heirs… even against their own will. Under Stone represents a real and legitimate evil more frightening than any magic.
Midnight Ball follows the girls as they pay their mother’s debt to the King Under Stone by dancing in his castle until their shoes are worn through every night. True to the original, their suitors are killed off–not by their father, this time, but by the jealous Under Stone. Enter Galen, a handsome soldier-turned-gardener. With the gifts an old crone gave him on his way home from battle, the cryptic help of Walter Vogel (another gardener), and a little bit of luck, Galen must save the princesses, or be killed himself. The stakes are appropriately high, and George begins her subtle foreshadowing of the rest of the series.
Glass is a shockingly fresh retelling of Cinderella. In this version, Cinderella herself is not the lead–she also isn’t as sweet or long suffering as what we’d expect–and is saved by a real princess: Princess Poppy, to be exact. It is unique in that Under Stone an everything that happened there is mentioned (and important), but not the main villain. Poppy’s nightmares set the stage for Silver Woods, making them a vital plot point, even if we’re not at first aware of it. This one might have been my favorite of the three, even though the ending comes so quickly that I was left blinking at the last page.
My previous criticism that “everybody lives” is only partly true. Actually, it’s completely wrong if you take it at face value. People do die in the last book (swallowed by a spell, actually), but they’re not the people that I was overly attached to as a reader. I liked them well enough, no doubt about that; but they were the characters that I thought warranted more page-time. I didn’t know them as well as I wanted to, and so their deaths didn’t affect me like Galen’s or Rose’s would have.
That said, I can’t help feeling as if so much of the story is still left untold. What about the romances of the other sisters (specifically Lily and Heinrich)? Where did Walter Vogel go for all those years during the books? What are the mechanics of the condition of the citizens Under Stone (I still maintain that they borrow from the vampire legends, even if that’s not what they are)? What exactly are they? What about Walter and the Good Frau–I want more of their story! I almost wish that George had written one book for each sister, even though I recognize that it would both disrupt the narrative structure of the trilogy and, most likely, be overkill. I just want all the holes filled in… I just want more. Perhaps George will retell a few more favorites in the future–Hansel and Gretl, Sleeping Beauty… maybe we’ll even get a more accurate re-rendering of The Snow Queen?