I just finished Entwined, and I think it could be a favorite summer read for fantasy fiction lovers. (If you don’t like fantasy, you may not make it through the first half although the second half has lots of action and excitement.)
Entwined is a creative riff on the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses or The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes. In that tale, the king couldn’t figure out where the girls went to dance all night, but they always wore out their shoes by morning. He challenges young men of the kingdom to figure it out. If they do, they may marry a princess. If not, they are killed. In Entwined, the stakes aren’t quite so high—the era, though not stated specifically, is more modern, and marriage contracts a bit more enlightened. Since the family’s horses are named after famous authors like Dickens and Thackeray, we can at least suppose that the period is post-Industrial Revolution.
The twelve sisters of Entwined are certainly princesses, but they are both poor (taxes in the realm haven’t been raised in a century) and grieving. As the novel opens, their beloved mother dies after giving birth to her twelfth daughter, Lily, on Christmas Eve. Though in mourning for a year, the girls are desperate to dance. Their mother was a wonderful dancer, and they think she wouldn’t have wanted them to stop enjoying life. Happily—or so they believe—they find a secret passage in their magic castle which leads them to the Keeper. In his fantastical ballroom, the girls dance to an unearthly orchestra.
But the Keeper has evil plans for the girls, especially for Azalea, the eldest of sisters, all named for flowers, and in alphabetical order at that. (Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, etc.—the king really likes order). Here the fantasy combines with an almost horror element, and the dances and the outcome of the girls’ relationship with the Keeper is truly creepy. It’s fascinating reading.
Still, this is one for the honest-to-goodness fantasy fans. There are many descriptions of the girls’ clothing and their sewing habits. The author never fails to remind the reader that a certain character has a chocolaty smooth voice or that another has a honey-sweet voice—it’s repeated every time they speak as is the mention that the girls’ dresses rustle, billow, etc. whenever they move. Though I am learning, as I am reading more fantasy novels now, that this is standard in that genre, someone looking for a fast-paced book may not read long enough to get to the more horrific elements. But if you love magic, innocent romance, gentle humor, and a strong bond among sister, absolutely put Entwined on your reading list.
Special note: If you love to dance, if you love the history of dances, or if you are required to read a piece of fiction and then research some ‘real’ element from it, and hope to find a book that discusses specific forms of dance and dances, I highly recommend this novel.