BOOK REVIEW: Wildwood Dancing
Author: Juliet Marillier
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Plot Summary: Hans Christian Anderson meets “Twilight” in this tale of unrequited frog love by prolific award-winner Juliet Marillier.
Jena and her four sisters live with their largely absent, merchant father in Castle Dracul in the Transylvania hillside. Every month, their dreary existence is brightened by forays into to the Wildwood forest where they dance under the full moon with the fantastical creatures of Faerie. Jena is dismayed when her eldest sister, Tati, falls desperately in love with one of the pale, otherworldly Night People. Lucky for us, the story is only marginally about these two sad sacks (the boy is depressingly named “Sorrow”) but instead focuses on Jena’s heroic efforts against the machinations of her evil cousin Cezar, who is attempting to step into her absent father’s shoes and take over Castle Dracul. In addition to threatening Jena and her sisters, Cezar is driven to destroy the Faeries of Wildwood, whom he holds responsible for the mysterious death of his younger brother years ago.
Every heroine needs a sidekick, and in Jena’s case, her telepathic frog, Gogu, provides moral support and a few surprises as the book comes to its satisfying conclusion. However, if I had one criticism of this book, it would be this: too much frog, too little romance. Yes, Gogu is adorable, sleeping on her pillow and nestling in her pocket while she dances with erstwhile suitors. But, he also eats bugs. The non-bug eating hero doesn’t show up until the last quarter of the book, which means we don’t really get a chance to watch their romantic relationship develop.
Both sisters (and frog) all get their HEA, although there is the typical YA business of “and so everybody learned their lesson and is now older and wiser, blah blah blah etc.” What really makes this book worth reading is Marillier’s efficient ability to breathe complexity and believability into her protagonists with masterful dialogue, plotting, and descriptive language. Even the most minor characters are at once arresting and imperfect, and you feel that they each have their own story to tell, if Marillier would only indulge them.
Should You Read It?
Yes! If you are looking for a mother-daughter read, or if you like YA fantasy, this is a perfect book for you. If you are looking for more romance, less YA moralizing, I would also recommend the absorbing Sevenwaters Trilogy and the fabulous book, “Heart’s Blood.”