ENTWINED by Heather Dixon

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Princess Azalea and her eleven sisters live for dancing.  It is how their mother raised them–even two year old Kale knows the basic steps of a waltz, and Azalea is working to master the devilishly difficult “entwine.”  But when their mother dies, the royal family is suddenly plunged into a state of mourning where dancing is prohibited.  Azalea tries to convince her father of the importance of dancing to honor her mother’s memory, but the king has grown even more distant after his wife’s death, and the princesses wonder if he even loves them anymore.  So when the girls discover a secret passage leftover from the magical days of the evil High King D’Eathe, they are eager to escape their palace of mourning.  They are elated when they discover that the passage leads to a banquet hall where each night, a mysterious man called “The Keeper” holds a nightly dance.  The girls swear an oath not to reveal the passageway or their secret dances to anyone.  But when their nightly outings turn sinister, Azalea wonders if they have made a terrible mistake.

I almost gave up on this book due to its slow start, numerous underdeveloped characters, and stilted writing. But fortunately about 12 or 13 chapters in, it really picked up–and for the last half of the book, I couldn’t put it down.  Ultimately, Dixon embellishes an under-appreciated fairytale (the “Twelve Dancing Princesses”) into an engaging and suspenseful fantasy with a sweet side-plot of a father struggling to relate to his daughters after their mother’s death.  I wish that she and her editors had been more ruthless with the beginning of the book.  But such as it is, don’t be afraid to skim the beginning because the latter half is a fairytale well worth the reading.

If you liked Entwined, you might like Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

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