Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.
Galen is a returning soldier without a true family to come home to. His mother, father, and sister all died during the endless war. He lives with the aunt, uncle and cousin he'd never known, working in the king's garden under his uncle (the head gardener)'s careful, grouchy eye.
Rose is a princess, the oldest of twelve girls (all named after flowers), and destined to rule the kingdom one day. She has sisters, and more sisters, and a few more over there in the corner. Sisters coming out her ears, and no mother to take care of them. That duty has fallen squarely on Rose's shoulders, and is a duty more difficult than anyone knows. Because every third night, when midnight strikes, the princesses must travel down into a land of darkness, and dance until dawn with the shadowy figures of dark princes. It is a curse, one handed down to them by the mother who made a foolish bargain with a man of evil.
Now the curse grows worse, because the princesses were deathly sick and missed a day. Every time they miss a night of dancing, they have to dance more often. Now they dance every night, and their father the king is frantic to find out what is happening to them. If he asks his daughters, all they can speak is gibberish. So he offers his crown and one of his princesses in marriage to any prince who can discover what ails the girls. The only problem? Every prince who tries and fails to learn their secret winds up dead from some accident within a month. Soon all the other kingdoms are mad, and they are on the brink of war once more.
But Galen, the clever soldier turned gardener, is smarter than he looks, and driven by something the princes never had: the unspoken love for a certain eldest princess. He is worried by how tired she looks, and wants nothing more than to bring her peace.
So, this is a retelling of the famous Twelve Dancing Princesses, which I obviously knew going into it. Fairy tale retellings are one of my favorite genres, and I just read Jessica Day George's Dragon series, so I had extremely high hopes going into the book. And it did not disappoint.
The characters weren't caricatures, but they weren't so finely developed it distracted from the story. Rose wasn't the only princess to get at turn in the spotlight, and each of the sisters had their own distinct personality. From Lily, Rose's right hand sister, to Hyacinth the devout, to Poppy the tomboy, and Pansy the darling youngest, each girl had a unique view of the curse that troubled them, and each dealt with the pressure in different ways (which was sometimes quite amusing). Galen's uncle was - argh, I have to either give a big plot summary, or a short (but rather big) spoiler to talk about the people on Galen's side of the book. Well, let's just say that the rarely seen weren't just given a stick-on that read "bland." Even the women who helped Galen find his aunt and uncle's house were unique.
Read it? Yes. Stay up till dawn with it? Um, *sheepish grin* I just reread it last week, for maybe the fourth time. And I still stayed up to finish it.
10/14 note: This is actually the first book in a trilogy, and I just wanted to stick on here that the other books are really good too.