Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Review: Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood Dancing


Note: Click here for my latest fortnightly MMW post, on the power of words.
Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)
As a side note: It appears that the cover
illustrator actually read the book! The
picture goes perfectly with the story.


Also note: Plenty of spoilers here, although they’re not particularly unpredictable spoilers.

You don’t hang around the fairy tale novel scene very long without hearing someone rave about the awesomeness that is Juliet Marillier. And yet, somehow, I had never actually gotten around to reading one of her novels. Until now!

I started with Wildwood Dancing partially because it is young adult (most of her novels are adult), partially because it is shorter than Daughter of the Forest (the one I most often here about from fairy tale enthusiasts), and partially because it is the only one my library has (*sigh*). After reading it, I understand the enthusiasm.

First off, she brought the fairy tale story into Transylvania. And who doesn’t want to read a fairy tale set in Transylvania? It was the perfect place for this story, really, because of the automatic mythos built into the place. The creepy, dark world of mythic Transylvania (I’m sure it’s a lovely place in real life) and the dreamlike wildwood (the land of the fae) worked beautifully together. The creatures who populate the wildwood are also part of the atmosphere that create a lovely sort of surreal world but with a dark undertone. And while I normally complain about a book that requires a pronunciation guide, this one didn’t bother me—after all, she wasn’t purposely making up names that are hard to pronounce; she was using a language that already exists, so it wasn’t her fault it required some explanation.

So, setting: wonderful and immersive. (Even for me, and I don’t usually care much about setting.)

Next, the plot. While I think setting is where Marillier excels, I also loved the way she weaved “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with bits of “The Frog Prince” and plenty of her own plot elements. While the first few pages were hard for me to get into (probably my aversion to accounting and having to consult a pronunciation guide), I was afterward quickly immersed in the sense of foreboding. I think that may have been one of the things that worked so well and pushed the story forward—just the sense that something worse was always right around the corner (and it usually was). Also, I appreciated the details that brought the original fairy tales (which tend to be very archetypal, nonspecific) to vivid life.

Now, the characters. Here I will confess that for me, Marillier loses some pretty major points by accidentally hitting two of my major pet peeves in one novel—and also having a little bit of creeper/stalker thrown in.

Jena: When you are a reasonably intelligent individual facing someone who has already proven to be callous and manipulative, stomping your foot and crying, “It’s not fair” just isn’t going to do you much good. Argh. And I’m sorry to say she did this several times (maybe without the foot stomping, though). I just wanted to slap her upside the head and say, “Duh, of course it’s not fair. This is the bad guy you’re dealing with here, hon. Deal with it.”

Tati: If you are in love with someone, and you can’t be with that person—or better yet, maybe you can be with that person, if you can just be patient long enough—it is probably not the best idea to lie around and starve yourself to death. Honestly, what is it about true love that makes it impossible to take care of yourself? The answer: nothing. True love makes you want to live (okay, yes, occasionally true love makes it hard to eat a meal here and there—but not to the point of starvation). It’s helpless infatuation that makes you want to die. So Tati I want to slap upside the head (characters in books sometimes need a good thwack, sorry to say) and say, “Either get over him, or start eating so that he has something to come home to other than a corpse. Because he’s probably not going to enjoy that for very long (even if he has been hanging out with the Night People for years).” I will also note that I don’t think Tati gets a pass on this issue by having any magical reasons why she had to stop living.

Gogu: Does anyone else find it slightly creepy that a man-turned-frog has been watching Jen dress and undress for years? This one I am trying to overlook because of suspension of disbelief and the fairy tale nature of the story; weird things like this just happen in fairy tales, and it’s not some sexual perversion—it just is. And it was never taken in that direction at all in the book, nor do you get a sense of any sexuality in his looking. That being said, I still have to try to avoid thinking about it, or my sense of how that would be in the real world overtakes the fictional world, and I say, “Yikes!” (Strangely, though, I don’t slap Gogu upside the head. Probably because it would be hard to do that to a frog.)

All my complaints about the characters aside, however, I did enjoy the book. And even if I didn’t love it the way I would have if I’d liked the characters more, I will certainly read more of her novels simply for the way she tells a story.