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Review: Wildwood Dancing

The five sisters of Castle Piscul Draculi have a secret. 

High in the Transylvanian woods, they live an idyllic, ordinary life with their father. But on every full moon, the sisters visit the Other Kingdom, home of the fey.

This winter brings change. Their father must move south for his health, leaving his daughters behind. Cousin Cezar arrives to help, or so it seems. The sisters soon face an unexpected threat to their happiness. Can help be found in the Other Kingdom? Or just a different kind of danger?

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier was published in 2007 by publisher Alfred A. Knopf. 

The world of Wildwood Dancing is recognisable. A part historical, part fictional Romania, rich with traditions and folklore. There’s also magic.

The main plot points and storylines are familiar. Adapted from central Europe lore and fairytales, most notably The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Marillier uses her skill to weave a unique, new story; a historical fiction fairytale.

We’re introduced to the five sisters immediately. At first, they resemble another fictional family of sisters; the Bennets of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. But they quickly become individuals in their own right, reacting to situations differently than the Bennets would. The familial relationships between the sisters Tatiana, Jena, Iulia, Paula, and Stella, their father, and their beloved servants are vital to this narrative.

Our main protagonist is Jena, the second eldest sister. She helps her father run the business and plans to travel abroad on business with him in the future. As no other human man she’s met would accept this lifestyle choice for a woman, she’s decided to remain unmarried. 

Jena’s constant companion since childhood is a male frog who seemingly communicates telepathically, just with her. No one in Piscul Draculi thinks this is odd. It has been occurring for ten years, ever since the tragic accident.

We join the family on their father’s last day at home. Due to illness, he must travel to the warmer south to escape the brutal winter. Jena and her eldest sister Tatiana will look after the family in his absence. In a world where only males inherit, this temporary father-daughters separation seems the only option to save the family’s future. 

It’s also the night of the full moon. With mixed emotions, the girls cross over to the Other Kingdom to dance and converse with their fey friends. 

Marillier uses words sparingly to set the scene. But they are always the right words, making the world both familiar and magical. The descriptions of nature are especially potent. 

The veil between the world of faeries and humans is thin. Magic exists in both realms, as does the danger.

In the human world, the threat appears in the form of a friend. Or rather, family. Cousin Cezar is a young man determined to succeed and confident that he knows best. Including what’s best for his young cousins, especially Jena. He doesn’t.

From faerie comes the Night People and with them the perfectly named Sorrow. Immediately there’s an attraction between Tatiana and Sorrow. But is Sorrow a threat? 

When Tatiana’s health starts to fail, Jena fears for her beloved sister and goes to extreme lengths to protect her. 

In an unexpected twist, Jena approves of a party to find suitable young men for the older sisters, herself included.

It’s (reluctant) husband-hunting time.

Jena’s original plan to stay unwed is worth giving up if it means saving her eldest sister. Apparently. The plan: help Tatiana marry a human. 

It’s not a plan Tatiana is interested in, much to Jena’s sorrow. But Sorrow himself is pleased, using the opportunity to sneak into the party and dance with his pale lady-love. A foolish risk when the people around you have decided that the local fey are ‘a problem’. Jena mentions the multipurpose use of a pitchfork but to no avail. For what is a pitchfork against True Love? 

Sharp and sudden death?

And a party means we get to meet more characters.

Among the guests is Vlad, a young man who quickly shows an interest in Jena. And her unusual frog companion. But Vlad makes a faux pas by choosing to woo Jena with details of his experiments…which include frogs. Such a catch. I can see big things in Vlad’s fictional future.

There are dangers, adventures, difficult choices, mistakes, and heartbreak in store for the sisters. Wildwood Dancing flows and swirls like a dance at the full moon in a faerie glade, ending in a satisfying climax. 

For an encore, the sequel, Cybele’s Secret (2007) follows on from the events of Wildwood Dancing.

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Mary Wyrd is a Freelance Copywriter for creatives and small businesses. She uses what spare time she can to read books and write reviews.

To find her in the wild, she sometimes lurks on Twitter @marywyrd