Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Thirteenth Princess

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler is a retelling of the fairy tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses".  The unique twist added to this book is evident in the title.  There is a thirteenth princess and she is the main character and heroine of the story.
When a king, desperate for a son and heir, has daughter after daughter he becomes increasingly angry.  At the birth of his thirteenth daughter his queen, whom he loves greatly, dies.  He banishes the baby, whom he names Zita, to the servants' quarters.  Zita grows up knowing she is a princess but kept from her sisters.  Soon her sisters discover a way to bring Zita into their bed chamber and once a week she spends a wonderful night with her sisters laughing, dancing and getting to know them.  Soon after Zita's twelfth birthday, however, things begin to change for the worse.  Her sisters become tired and listless and their health is fading.  Their slippers are worn through every morning and gossips speculate on the trouble.  Zita knows she has to discover what is wrong before she loses her sisters forever.  With the help of Breckin the stable boy, Babette the witch and Milek the soldier Zita sets off to rescue her sisters from a strange and mysterious enchantment. 

The Thirteenth Princess reads with the charm and magic of the original fairy tale.  All of the original components are here, including the lowly soldier who finally breaks the spell.  The twist in this tale of the added princess gives the story a little more hint of desperation.  If Zita loses her sisters she will have no family to speak of.  There are a couple of other twists in the tale that make it different enough from the original while still maintaining the well known and loved story.  For an afternoon of light reading it was highly enjoyable.

This book is perfect for the audience of middle grade girls it is intended for.  The story and romance is probably a little sweet and tame to appeal to older teens, although some in that age group might enjoy it.  Zita is 12 through most of the story and spends a great deal of time wondering  what it would be like to be kissed, blushing when thinking of romance with a particular boy and longing for closeness of that kind.  There is a good deal of romantic discussion going on. Allusions are made to the king's dalliances prior to his marriage and to the goings on between maids and footmen which lead to dismissals.  Conversations are had about kissing boys.  In one of these conversations with some maids one says, "A smart girl knows to stop at kissing."  All of that is to say anyone with a precocious young reader might want to be wary of putting this book in their hands.  My six year old could read this but I don't believe she is ready for the heavy romantic content yet.

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