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Book Report: Princess of the Midnight Ball

I had enjoyed Dragon Slippers very much, and had enjoyed Dragon Flight quite a bit, but without, it seems, blogging it, so I picked up Jessica Day George’s new book, Princess of the Midnight Ball, at the library with fairly high expectations. And then my Best Reader read it and said it was wonderful, so my expectations were increased. Which is a bad way to start a book, you know, with high expectations like that. And I’m aware of that, you know. So I was surprised to really, really enjoy the book.

It’s in the sub-sub-genre of fairy tales retold, which is certainly a fertile ground, and Ms. George picked the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, which isn’t as played out as some of them are. In fact, I barely know more than the outline of the tale, enough to recognize it when the twelve pairs of dancing slippers are discovered with their soles worn through in the morning, not enough to know how they were rescued, to guess whether the writer was going to follow, subvert or ignore that.

The main subversion, and I’m willing to call it that, is that Our Hero is not a prince, doesn’t turn out to be a prince, isn’t an orphan who might have royal blood, and isn’t actually remotely prince-like. He was a child soldier, who at the end of the war is looking for work and family and stability. And𔃀you remember how one of the things YHB liked about Dragon Slippers was that Our Hero(ine)’s Special Skill was embroidery? And you know how some YA books will include at the back a recipe or two for dishes that were prominent in the book? This is the first book that included as a special bonus the knitting pattern.

Which totally made up for my skepticism that anybody would find it odd that this soldier knit himself socks and scarves. I am under the impression that it wasn’t until the twentieth century that such a practice would be worthy of comment—not that every man could knit (south of Scandahoovia) but that somebody in the unit would be able to knit if he could get dry wool. Sock darning, of course, was still common, at least until the mid-century war, but knitting became much more heavily gendered around the turn of the century. Or I’m wrong about that, as I could well be.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,