9 Rated Books Book Reviews YA Appreciation Month

Book Review: Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing

Author: Juliet Marillier

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Knopf Books
Publication Date: January 2007
Hardcover: 416 pages

Stand alone or series: Can be read as a stand alone novel, but has a companion book/sequel titled Cybele’s Secret.

Why did I read this book: It’s no surprise that I love Juliet Marillier – her Heir to Sevenwaters was one of my top 10 reads of last year, and her Sevenwaters Series is among my all-time favorites (Heck, with some arm twisting I even got Ana to read Daughter of the Forest and, of course, she loved it). With our Young Adult Appreciation Month, I finally had the perfect excuse to read Juliet Marillier’s YA novels – reads which were long overdue!

Summary: (from amazon.com)
High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.

But their peace is shattered when Father falls ill and must go to the southern parts to recover, for that is when cousin Cezar arrives. Though he’s there to help the girls survive the brutal winter, Jena suspects he has darker motives in store. Meanwhile, Jena’s sister has fallen in love with a dangerous creature of the Other Kingdom–an impossible union it’s up to Jena to stop.

When Cezar’s grip of power begins to tighten, at stake is everything Jena loves: her home, her family, and the Other Kingdom she has come to cherish. To save her world, Jena will be tested in ways she can’t imagine–tests of trust, strength, and true love.


The second eldest of five sisters, Jena lives a quiet but magical life in the far reaches of Transylvania, in an old, eccentric castle called Piscul Draculi. Jenna isn’t breathtakingly beautiful like her eldest sister Tatiana, nor is she a scholar like Paula, a flirtatious girl like Iulia, or sweetly innocent like her youngest sister Stela – but Jena is solid and steadfast. She is strong, adventurous, and she has her constant companion, a frog named Gogu, whom only she can understand and talk to. For as long as all five sisters have lived in Piscul Draculi, on every night of the full moon they have been able to open a secret portal to the Other Kingdom, where they dance the night away in their own Dancing Glade with the magical creatures that live there.

Everything is perfect for Jena and her sisters, until two events change the girls’ world forever. First, at their last visits to the Other Kingdom, a strange new group of dangerous creatures known as the Night People are also guests at the Dancing Glade – and one very solemn young man, named Sorrow, of their number has stolen Tatiana’s heart. Though Jena tries to warn Tati against the Night People and their viscious ways, she will not give up Sorrow. Then, the girls’ father leaves on a merchant trip, with responsibility of the castle falling to Jena since Tati is too busy mooning over her new love, making sure the day to day affairs run smoothly, and taking care of her sisters. However, Jena and her sisters soon learn that their father has taken very ill, and won’t be able to return home for some long months – if at all. As their mother died giving birth to Stela, the girls only have their father and cousins in the neighboring castle for family, and this is all cousin Cezar needs to move in on Piscul Draculi, asserting his power over his ‘feeble’ female cousins (for their own good, of course). With only the help of her loyal, closest friend Gogu, Jena must fend off Cezar’s anger and his bitter hatred of the Other Kingdom – for if she loses control of Piscul Draculi, Cezar threatens to burn the woods that contain the Other Kingdom with it.

Wildwood Dancing is another masterpiece from Juliet Marillier – I love and at the same time fear reading her books. Love, because I know instantly I will be swept away with the magic lilt of her prose and enchtanting fantasy worlds; fear, because once I’ve had a fix of Marillier, everything I read afterwards seems bland and pale in comparison. Such is Wildwood Dancing. Instantly, I fell in love with the tenacious Jena and her constant companion Gogu; I loved Piscul Draculi, the world of the Other Kingdom, the tasks and tests each character had to pass, and of course, the heady romantic magic of it all. I could connect with Jenna’s sense of responsibility, and her missteps and misunderstandings that stemmed from this sensibility – as a heroine, Jena is far from flawless, but this endears her as a character.

And then, there’s Gogu.

I should mention that I am a tad bit biased – I love frogs. Gogu is a perfect frog name, and this charming take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses and the Princess and the Frog fables is beautiful. With Gogu and Jena’s relationship, of course you know what’s coming from a mile away – but the charm of this tale isn’t in some surprising twist, but rather in the beautiful execution of the story.

And beautifully executed Wildwood Dancing is. Juliet Marillier’s prose is elegant and lovely as always. Every character in the story (with two exceptions) are vibrant and powerful – even the angry Cezar is completely relatable. Perhaps this is why I love Ms. Marillier’s characters so much – for even the villainous characters have their own reasons and are presented in a light that is if not sympathetic, at least understandable.

My only irritation with this otherwise flawless piece of literature – and yes, Wildwood Dancing is among one of the best books I have read this year, for young adults and adults alike – lies with the eldest sister, Tatiana, and her tortured love affair with Sorrow. Not that their love isn’t understandable or that I am not sympathetic to the cause of young love – but COME ON. I abhor obsessed, doomed romances. Sorry. These sort of characters that literally waste away from lovesickness, as Tati does, irritate me to no end. I have absolutely zero tolerance for this kind of nonsense. Maybe because I’m not that romantic, but Tati’s plight in the castle – while the rest of her sisters have to pick up the slack – is incredibly annoying. Of course, that is simply my opinion.

Despite this minor annoyance, I loved Wildwood Dancing, and it is one of the best books I have read in 2009. Highly, highly recommended!

Notable Quotes/Parts: I love Jena and Gogu’s exchanges so much.

I peered at him. In the candlelight he was just a green blob on the pillow. “You can stay home if you don’t want to do this, Gogu,” I said, realizing that he was as terrified as I was. “I could go by myself.” At Dark of the moon, I’d left him behind. The thought of doing that again, of braving the witch of the wood without my dearest companion by my side, made me feel sick. But it was unfair to drag him along when he was so scared.

You d-don’t want me to c-come? You would l-leave me b-behind again? His whole body drooped.

“Of course I want you, stupid! I’m petrified of going alone. I’m just trying to spare you.”

Then we will g-go together, Jena.

“You realize I’ve got no idea how to find her?”

We’ll find her.

“I hope so,” I said, sitting up to blow out the candle. “And I hope she’s prepared to help us. Good night, Gogu. Sweet dreams. Up at dawn, remember.”

This pillow is my best place, Jena.

“What?” I squinted at him in the darkness, but his eyes were already closed.

Additional Thoughts: The Twelve Dancing Princesses fable is an enchanting tale that is retold here in Wildwood Dancing, and in other YA novels. This book marks the second retelling of the fable that I’ve read this year – the other being Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball.

Are there any other Twelve Princesses retellings I should be reading?

Verdict: An absolutely beautiful debut YA novel that should be read by everyone. Easily one of my favorite reads of 2009.

Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection

Reading Next: Cybele’s Secret by Juliet Marillier


  • Celia
    July 30, 2009 at 2:01 am

    I completely agree with you – this book was lovely. I’ve also thought of two other recent YA renderings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses tale:

    “The Shoes That Were Danced To Pieces,” a short story by Ellen Kushner in Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling’s Troll’s-Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales
    The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn

  • Angie
    July 30, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Have you read Robin McKinley’s short story retelling of 12 Dancing Princesses? It’s in her THE DOOR IN THE HEDGE collection and I have always loved it. Glad this one was a win for you! I loved CYBELE’S SECRET as well. But I had a soft spot for Paula the whole way through WILDWOOD DANCING.

  • Thea
    July 30, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Celia – I loved this book so much. One of those books you finish with a happy smile on your face and that contented feeling 🙂 Sigh. And thank you for the recommendations!! I haven’t read either of those books, so I’ll definitely have to check them out :mrgreen:

    Angie – I had no idea Robin McKinley wrote a short take on the fable! *adds to Amazon list* Thanks! And Cybele’s Secret was awesome too in a completely different way (well, to me anyways!). I’ll have my review up in a bit!

  • Adrienne
    July 30, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Thanks for another awesome review-my To Buy List on my blackberry grows daily. At the rate you are recommending these book, I will have reading material for the next two years 😛 This sounds so good, and what is there not to love about frogs? 😀

  • Li
    July 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    It sounds wonderful!

    I’ve “Cybele’s Secret” in my TBR pile, but haven’t read it because someone said I should really read “Wildwood Dancing” first. Would you agree with that?

  • Thea
    July 30, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Adrienne – My pleasure 😉 I have no scruples when it comes to book pimpage! And frogs are just AWESOME. I love them so! I want my own Gogu. :mrgreen:

    Li – It is wonderful, and I am positive you will love it – especially since you’ve read and loved her Sevenwaters books! You can read Cybele’s Secret without reading Wildwood Dancing, but you might miss some of the references (especially to Paula’s older sister, Tati). So…I’d probably say read Wildwood first, if you can! I hope you get a chance to read both, I’d love to hear what you think of them 🙂

  • MaryK
    July 30, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Hey, I love the Princess and the Frog fairytale! I haven’t come across it in a novel before.

    Thanks for doing the review. I looked at the Amazon reviews a while back and wasn’t convinced to try it.

    (Y’all should do a books-based-on-fairytales book week sometime. :mrgreen: )

  • Christine
    July 31, 2009 at 8:17 am

    Great review, Thea. I kind of read your reviews backwards, having just read your review of Cybele’s Secret first. Both books sound amazing. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Collette
    July 31, 2009 at 8:48 am

    Man, you guys are killing me. My to-buy list just keeps getting longer and longer. 🙂

  • Why is this novel called East when apparently Rose is North-facing born? Ideas, anyone? | ..:Always Dreaming:..
    March 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    […] both are missing that extra OOMF. That WOW factor that makes a truly wondrous retelling work (see Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing or Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl for examples of what I’m talking about). Though it wasn’t […]

  • Book Review: The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell | The Book Smugglers
    October 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    […] of my favorite fairy tales, though when done well it can be phenomenal (Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing remains my favorite retelling), but Beauty and the Beast? The heartbreaking despair of the […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.