First foray into the weeds.

I have been trying my best not to write reviews for OP books and, since I haven’t been doing a lot of OP reading, it hasn’t been particularly hard.

And then the past few weeks happened.  I did TONS of OP reading.  I finally read some program books that didn’t take the whole week.  Also, a bunch of books came in the library that I had been waiting for, so I had to make the time for said books.  Funny enough, my reading schedule the past few weeks was right on target, it’s just my blogging that’s been off.

Of course, when that happened, I stumbled across two great books that I just HAD to review despite the OP-ness of them.  Too bad, so sad.  Even though I’m behind on regular reviews, I figure now was a good time to break into the weeds and post one of the irregular ones.

Rules for OP Reviews (Hereafter referred to as Weeds Reviews):

  • They will hereafter be AFTER the week’s book review is complete.
  • They will not exceed 1,000 words, nor will they be under 500.  (Most of my regular reviews are over 1,300 words, those that aren’t should have been . . . need to not be lazy.)
  • There will be at least one decently long quote (which will contribute to word count) to give an idea of style and flow, as there is less room in the review to discuss it.
  • Reasons for choosing this book to review (as opposed to all the other OP books) will be provided (which will not contribute to word count).
  • Each one will be titled with a weed reference so that they are easy to pick out.

Alrighty, I believe I’m established.  I mostly wanted to set those boundaries not because they were truly necessary, but because I knew it was pretty likely I’d end up spending too much time outside the goal of the 52 books per year.  This is not what I intend or want.

This review is for the book The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler. Besides having the honor of being one of the last books on my shelf, it is also one if the better executed novelizations of a faerie tale I’ve come across.  I’ve found, from reading and writing experiences, that faerie tale tend to naturally show flaws when expanded.  Stories with faerie tale elements, but original plots do much better.

The Thirteenth Princess is, as you may have guessed, a novelization of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” originally a Grimm tale.  It is simultaneously one of the most beloved and worst treated tales I know of.  People have abused this poor tale over and over (what is this, making the old soldier fall in love with the youngest daughter, or turning him into a prince in disguise, or a palace servant), for the sake of what?  I can never tell.  Because of these abused versions (which are never very good), TDP has fallen out of favor and is just barely starting to make a comeback.  The Thirteenth Princess will go a long way towards that, as it is a re-imagining that is fastidiously faithful to the important components of the original tale:

  • The sisters shoes are worn out in the morning.
  • Several men of other kingdoms have come and gone.
  • They are well past marrying age.
  • There is a lake and a castle underneath the castle where they dance.
  • They are rescued by a soldier who is aided by a witch.
  • The soldier chooses to marry the eldest daughter.

There are many variations in between these points, but changing these changes the fundamental nature of the tale.  The aristocracy being saved by an unrelated commoner has always been part of the appeal of this tale.  The troublesome daughters, well on their way to becoming old maids, are the concern of every loving parent.  Magic is vital.  The worn out shoes start this whole mess.  Changing these details changes the story.  It’s just a bad idea.  Now, I don’t object as much to changing the number of princesses, but I like that this author kept the original twelve in tact, adding a thirteenth, rather than reducing the number of enchanted dancers.

Perhaps the most appealing part of the book was Zita’s desperation to please and to belong.  Zita, the thirteenth unwanted daughter of the king, was made to work in the kitchen so she would not remind her father of the wife he lost at Zita’s birth.  She spends much of the book trying her hardest to please him and her sisters, as well as find out just where she belongs in this world: somewhere above the kitchen, but somewhere below her sisters.  Zita seems so much more real to me than many of her counterparts in other novelizations.

Also nice was that, while never knowing her mother certainly informs her life, it doesn’t rule it.  Rather than long unerringly for a mother who can never return, Zita concentrates on the father who won’t acknowledge her.  Much more sensible.  And, in her quest to be acknowledged, she finds a mother figure in the witch who helps the soldier break the spell over her twelve sisters.  Babette, who lives in a magically concealed house in the wood, is marvelous, teaching wonderful lessons about respect (of self and others) as well as offering home-made cookies to soften the sting.

It is from one of these scenes that I take my quote:

Babette did her motions and spoke her words, and the water shimmered as we peered into it.  Then a picture began to form.  It was not the stables, as I had expected, but a clearing in the woods… There, sitting on a log and shivering, was Breckin.  He was obviously lost.

“Oh dear,” Babette said, and I giggled.

“I guess he couldn’t picture the path [to the house],” I said smugly.  Babette frowned at me, and I quickly said, “Should we go look for him?”

“You should,” Babette said pointedly.  “It is getting late.”  I nodded, feeling a little ashamed…

“C-can I–,” I stammered.  “May we come back?”  I looked at the floor.  I felt the weight of Babette’s disapproval, and I wasn’t sure I understood.  What had I done wrong?

“You must always think of how others feel,” Babette told me.  “Try to put yourself in Breckin’s place.  How would you feel?”

I was embarrassed–and slightly offended.  “I thought of the frog,” I reminded her.  “I knew it did not want to be a door knocker.”

“You must think not only of frogs, but of other people,” Babette said firmly.  So I thought about Breckin, sitting alone in the forest.  Perhaps he had been walking for hours.  If it were me, I would be tired, hungry, and thirsty.  Afraid.

“I’ll find him,” I promised.  “I’m sorry.”

Babette smiled. “Come visit again,” she said.  “The days are short, and the cold makes me lonely.”

I love the way the lesson is taught here, as well as the exchange.  Plus–live-frog door knocker?  How awesome is that!?

I think a lot of the flaws that can come out in novelizations were avoided here by staying simple and true to the tale.  I was  impressed with Zahler’s grasp of her characters and also with her relatable situations (despite all the magic and castles and witches).  I would highly recommend this book to any lover of the story itself, as well as anyone looking for a princess story with a good message.

Reasons I chose this book over all the others:

  • Good faerie tale novelizations are hard to find.
  • This specific tale is one of my favorites.
  • This isn’t a “poor, helpless me” princess book.
  • Supporting a new author.
  • The setting is fanciful, the emotions are not.

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