Azalea is oldest of elven princesses, and she feels the weight. She is Princess Royale, which means her future husband is picked out by Parliament because he will one day be king. Her mother is ailing, and has been for a long time, so Azalea acts as a mother figure to her ten younger sisters. And her father...well, he's not really interested in them. And then, on the night of the Yuletide Ball, Azalea's mother dies while giving birth to a twelfth and final princess, and the girls are left basically alone as their father first retreats into himself, and then leaves for war with a neighboring kingdom. The girls are left alone, with instructions to follow the strict rules of morning: all black clothing, they can't be seen in public except on Royal Business, the windows must remain covered at all times, and--worst of all--absolutely no dancing. But Azalea and her sister's can't resist dancing, an activity their mother loved, and after the ballroom is locked against them, they're left looking for somewhere else to go. They find a sanctuary at the bottom of a hidden passage in their bedroom--a garden of silver, with a pavilion at its center that is watched over by a man named Keeper, who conjures magical dances night after night for the princesses...and eventually asks them to free him.
This was an interesting take on The Twelve Dancing Princesses. While it takes a while for the main plot to get going, it's ultimately much darker than the original, which is a good thing; there's an air of menace about the dances that only strengthens with time, until Azalea is desperate to make it all stop but isn't sure how to do so without bringing down serious consequences on all of them. And while the original fairytale is very much a man's story--a king who wants control over his daughters and their actions so badly that he offers to give one of them, any of them, away to the first man who can help him--this one is much more a story of family. Azalea is both sister and mother to many of her sisters, and tries to do what is best for all of them while balancing their father's complicated role in their lives. In this way, Entwined is very much a Frozen-esque story: family takes precedence over romance, though there is a light dusting of romance here and there. To me, the romantic story lines weren't really strong enough to be entirely believable, and I kept hoping they would become more prominent, but if they had, the family story might have fallen by the wayside, and I do think that, ultimately, the family story was the one that had to remain central.
There is a danger in writing a story about twelve princesses, of course, and that is that it can be very easy to simply have too many main characters running about. I think Dixon handled this nicely. Azalea is very obviously the main character--she is the only main character, really, as the book is written entirely in third-person limited, from Azalea's view. And by making Azalea young (sixteen or seventeen-ish), Dixon manages to make the youngest of the princesses so young that they're not really characters at all; they're bodies with names and sometimes actions, like chewing on someone, who are mostly toted around by the older girls. While most of the girls have personalities and dialogue and purpose, the only one who comes close to being a main character like Azalea is Bramble, the second-eldest, and I think that was as it should be; it gave a good supporting cast without cluttering the pages, and overall made Azalea a stronger character because the sheer youth of some of the girls emphasized how much Azalea had to do to keep them all together.
As for the writing itself--it's charming, utterly charming. It definitely has a fairytale feel to it, while still being just a little bit more grown up. This is distinctly a young adult piece, not an adult one, but it's also not all sugar-coated with sunshine and rainbows like some adaptations can be. Things go very, very wrong, and Azalea is left struggling to fix them with the little knowledge she has, and there's no absolute certainty that she'll manage to do so. The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a story that, in the original, lacks in many things, like character development, a strong central villain, and even a strong plot, and I thought Dixon managed to immensely improve upon all of these aspects. This is the second adaptation of TDP that I've read this year, the first being Girls at the Kingfisher Club, and while I really liked Girls, in my opinion, Entwined is how the story is meant to be.
4 stars out of 5.