Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

Found via: Publisher's Weekly 1/18

Back in my day, the story to re-tell seemed to be Cinderella. Or maybe I just sought those re-tellings out and no one pointed me towards other fairy tales. Either way, I'm pretty sure there's been a marked up-tick in re-tellings of The Twelve Dancing Princesses - this one is the third that I've reviewed for this blog alone! But so long as the stories remain enjoyable, I'm not going to complain.

Zita is the thirteenth daughter of King Aricin and Queen Amara - and their last daughter, as the queen died giving birth to Zita. Devastated, the king banished young Zita to live and work among the servants, naming her after the patron saint of servants, a name very different from her 12 sisters, whose names all begin with 'A.'

When she is 7, Zita discovers that she is, in fact, royalty, and begins a warm and happy relationship with her sisters, spending whatever evenings she can spare in their lush bedroom. The happy arrangement lasts for four years, until the king starts trying to find appropriate suitors for his eldest daughters, and is frustrated that the young women remain mute in front of the visiting princes. Soon all of the princesses start falling ill, and only Zita notices during her late night visits that her sisters' slippers are all worn through.

Zita confides her feelings to her friend Breckin, the stable boy, and together with the help of the forest witch Babette and Breckin's handsome older brother, a soldier, Zita sets out to save her sisters from whatever horrible enchantment has befallen them.

This is neither the most complex re-telling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses I've encountered, nor the most simplistic. Princess of the Midnight Ball I felt stuck too closely to the original story - it really felt like it was just adding details like names to the fairy tale and expanded upon little else. Wildwood Dancing on the other hand made some major changes to the original story, including cutting down on the number of princesses and adding Transylvanian mythology to the curse on the princesses, but it was still recognizable as a fairy tale re-telling and was a great story on its own. The Thirteenth Princess definitely heavily relies on the original story, but adds enough new nuances to remain interesting.

Zita is another plucky young princess in a long line of literary plucky young princesses (who are often set apart from their families by their red hair - physically she definitely reminds me of Princess Amelia from The Extra-Ordinary Princess). She definitely relies on Breckin, his brother, and Babette the witch for help, bu she is as much a part of the action as the boys.

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