Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale.
Let me explain one thing right here. I love retellings. My Dad used to tell me fairy tales from various points of view of the other characters, and I think that might be part of the reason why. The wolf could speak for himself and was maybe an innocent bystander in Little Red Riding Hood, but oh! Let me tell you, that lumberjack had a good tale to tell, as well. And it wasn't just that one--the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson either rolled in their separate graves, or rose in spirit with the new life we breathed into those tales. I love how things are explained, how characters are developed, or how sense can be made of what we otherwise would not have understood, set down as they are. So, I love retellings. And fairy tales, in general.
Back to "The Thirteenth Princess." I found a commercial for this book, by the way, which you should watch--it's pretty terrible. It's overly dramatic, and does not at all make me want to read this book. I'm glad I didn't see it beforehand. I probably wouldn't have read it. It's definitely a middle reader, but does that really matter in the grand scheme of things? If a book is good, then it's good!
However, this book was average for me. Granted, I was up until 3am or so, reading it. On a weekday. When I had to work at 8 the next morning. Ouch. But that was because I had just hit the meat of the book. The really good parts. And where this book is good, the writing is crisp and descriptive, and you're sucked in. However, there's a bit too much that is not quite there, for me.
The story follows our red-haired protagonist, Zita. She is the thirteenth princess, born last to a queen of failing health (who then dies), and to a king who wanted a son, who spurns her, forces her to live with the servants, while her twelve Barbie-blond sisters live in splendor. Magic is banned here, but of course that is just a recipe for magic to occur. I'm not entirely convinced of the plausibility of magic being banned so easily, anyway, but maybe I'm not supposed to, so I am okay with this point.
Zita is supposed to live up to her red-haired description. In the beginning of the book, I do not think she does. She wheedles, she is baby-ish, she is never just strong, though she is told she is different--a Princess who can cook! Well, what else was she supposed to do? She was living in the kitchen, after all!
The sisters, too, often annoy me. They all have names beginning with "A", and they are all almost too perfect, though I respect that the oldest, accurately named Aurelia (Golden), wishes to find a husband who will accept her as Queen and not want to rule. (You go girl!) I just wish she had more backbone--or even that I could tell the other princesses apart. True, they are under an enchantment, but still.
I didn't get into the book until the sisters started to get sick, and Zita had to find out why. She starts to show a little bit more character in that part, as well. Yet I can't get over the fact that I knew who was casting the enchantment, a big mystery in the book, by the time she first realized someone actually was enchanting them, and began to wonder who it was. I had about four or five chapters on her. Nonetheless, Zahler pulled off the reveal with some interesting revelations I wouldn't have necessarily thought of, so I felt satiated by the way the pieces matched up.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I read it. There was some very lovely writing here...but it was not a book I feel like I'll be raving over or even insisting that my friends read. It's worth a read, especially if you're into fairy tales, and it's quite fast to read...but I found some character traits wanting, and felt the action came a bit too late. So, from a self-proclaimed fairy tale aficionado--it wasn't bad. Just don't let that terrible "book preview" link I added above keep you from giving it a shot!