Monday, May 24, 2010


Wildwood Dancing - Juliet Marillier
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy (and nobody does it better than JM!)
# of pages: 400 (pb)
Publisher: Knopf, Random House
Recommended for: ALL AGES.
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.

My Thoughts: Juliet Marillier has done it again! Over the Christmas break, I read her historical fantasy series The Bridei Chronicles and her historical novel Wolfskin (both of which are geared more toward adults) and was captivated by her writing style. Reading Wildwood brought back fond memories of her other stories, and I found delightful character and story similarities between this book and the others. Folks, I cannot gush enough about Marillier's obvious skills as a storyteller: her stories are always thoroughly researched, her characters are so exquisitely real (not real as in excessively flawed, but real as in someone you can care about and trust), and her fantasy elements are creative without being extreme.

Including elements from the fairytales of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "The Frog Prince," Marillier also gives readers a clear and descriptive look into historic, cultural Transylvania. It is so obvious that careful study and research went into the making of Wildwood, way more than a few mere "google searches," and for that Marillier deserves much recognition. Historical fantasy is not easy - it is a careful blend of two genres, really. It just felt nice to read a book with substance.

And now on to the characters. I've read Marillier's work before, and I kind of see a little pattern: her heroines are usually very practical, if just a wee bit on the self-sacrificing side. I loved Jena for many reasons, but chiefly because I felt like I could relate to her. She's not perfect, by any means, but she has heart, and she learns from her mistakes. So often it seems that there's this message in Young Adult fiction (as in culture) that says, "You can't make a mistake, there's no such thing as 'mistakes,' because everything is a learning process!" Well, if you don't realize you've made a mistake, how can you learn anything at all?! I'm getting off-topic, but hopefully you see the point I'm trying to make. Marillier's characters are incredibly substantial because, like us, they have the capacity to learn and grow. There's one character that I didn't really connect with, and that's Jena's older, do-anything-for-love sister, Tatiana. If you've read Wildwood, did you feel the same way? However, though I didn't understand Tatiana or her deep connection to her love interest, Sorrow (who may or may not be on of the nefarious Night People), I really liked how Marillier did justice to their story and their struggles - absolute, true love is not only possible, the story seems to say, but it's noble and wonderful. I liked that message, because it's true. Sometimes things happen and even though they seem to contradict reason, that doesn't always make them wrong. Jena, as the embodiment of reason, discovers this (among other things) throughout the course of the story. I also liked that when Jena makes a "stupid" mistake (after the climax of the book), she gets thoroughly chewed out by a powerful-but-lovable witch. Thank you, helpful adult characters! What a rare, lovely breed you are!

Marillier spends so much time efficiently building and establishing her characters, she doesn't leave anybody out, even the villains. I really vacillated over Wildwood's "villain," Cezar. It's weird, because sometimes I actually found myself seeing things from his point of view. She's so good about creating well-rounded characters, that even the villain of her story had a touch of humanity. Nevertheless, there is a difference between a man being chivalric and gentlemanly (which I love!) and being downright chauvinistic (which more closely describes Cezar). And the special FROG of the story---I loved him! He was by far my favorite character. And that's also a great thing about Wildwood, too: I thought I had the "twist" all figured out - "everybody knows the story of the Frog Prince,' but I was so wrong! That twist caught me completely off-guard, and I loved it!

Final Rating: 5/5. If you read ANY of my reviews (and I'm glad everybody liked Eyes Like Stars - that's a good one, too!) PLEASE, PLEASE check out this book! You won't regret it.
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