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Oldie but a Goodie Review: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Release date: 1 July 2006

Rating: 5/5

Book Boxes: None, but someone please do a special edition of this!

Synopsis: High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It's an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle's hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he's there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena's sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom--an impossible union it's up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar's grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can't imagine--tests of trust, strength, and true love.



Wildwood Dancing is my first foray into Marillier’s compendium of fantasy, and it did not disappoint. Bookish folk have been recommending Marillier for a while, and a particular bookish friend has been recommending her to me for quite some time, so I prioritized one of her books on my TBR and finally read one. While this one is not the most highly recommended in Marillier’s list (Daughter of the Forest would be the most recommended title), and it is one of her YA novels, which I have heard are not as good as her adult works, I quite enjoyed this book in many ways, though it starts at quite a slogging pace. By about 20% of the way through the book, the plot propels forward quickly, the events catch, and the story captivates all the way to the end in breathtaking rapture and captivation.

Primarily, Wildwood Dancing is a key example of plot intricacy. Many things are happening at once. In addition to juxtaposition of the plot to “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” it bears similarity to other fairy tales and characters from old, such as Baba Yaga, the faerie courts, portals to faerie lands, and talking animal companions. There are at least four different subplots happening in tandem, and each of them are expertly integrated into the main story, creating a fantastically engaging fantasy that I just could not get enough of. The atmosphere and setting, equally as expert with the plot, are reminiscent of Patricia McKillip, and some of the best setting I’ve read in any fantasy. I’m partial to dark, eerie, ethereal forests, and there were plenty in WWD.

Characters in this story aren’t quite as strong as the plot structure, but they make a close second. The villain, Jena’s cousin Cezar, is frustratingly brilliant at being bad while masking his condescension (unsuccessfully) and attempting to take over Piscul Draculi while his cousins’ father is away in the South convalescing. The majority of the plot revolves around him and Jena, who grew up together, and how remarkably Cezar has changed from the thoughtful young man he once was into the controlling, ruthless man we see in the book. Jena is his perfect match, uncowed by his intimidation and slow takeover of hers and her sisters’ household in their father’s absence. Cezar’s demise, though not a surprise, is more heartbreaking than satisfying, as the reason he gives for his heart being so bitter comes back to him in the end, and he makes a poor decision with it.

Although there are a multitudinous myriad of characters in the book, I must say my favorite is Jena’s pet frog, Gogu, who provides companionship for Jena outside of her familial relationships and provides no small amount of comic relief. He also adds a bit of magical realism to the plot; a telepathically talking frog that rides on a girl’s shoulder and sleeps on her pillow is odd, even for this story. The other characters seem to accept that Jena walks around with a pet frog and do not make as big a deal about the weirdness of it as I would expect. Grogu, also oddly, serves as Jena’s wisest and most trusted confidant through the book. He is a wonderful little amphibian, and really turns out to be a quite valuable character in the book (and in my heart).

Disappointingly, though the synopsis advertises quite prominently the monthly trips Jena and her siblings take to the fae lands for night-long dances by the full moon, these dances do not quite take up as much of the book as I thought they would, and I was satisfied enough with the conflict and its ending and the connections the daughters make in the fae lands. I realize they could not have just lived there, and none of the other conflicts would have resolved themselves, but I do love the fae lands, so that is just my nitpickiness and not a fault of the writing. Marillier does such a great job of immersing the reader in the atmosphere and magic of the places the characters visit that I preferred the other world to the real one, as I do in my own life, which is why I love fantasy, I guess.

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