Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Entwined

by Heather Dixon
Start Date: 22 July 2011
End Date: 23 July 2011
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published March 29th 2011

Summary (from Goodreads):
Azalea is trapped. Just when she should feel that everything is before her . . . beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing . . . it's taken away. All of it.

The Keeper understands. He's trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. And so he extends an invitation.

Every night, Azalea and her eleven sisters may step through the enchanted passage in their room to dance in his silver forest.

But there is a cost.

The Keeper likes to keep things.

Azalea may not realize how tangled she is in his web until it is too late.

My Review:
Entwined was absolutely lovely. I picked it up a few nights ago, thinking I would read a chapter or two before bed, and was drawn in from the first page. Before I knew it, I had read almost 100 pages. As a few reviewers have mentioned, it is long, but I didn't mind at all. It's the type of book that doesn't keep you turning the pages at breakneck speed, but lets you bask in the world of the characters. It's a perfect book to curl up with for a few hours in the evening. It is very long, nearly 500 pages, but it never drags. I barely noticed the length. Based on the The Twelve Dancing Princesses (which makes it automatically great, since it's a fairytale retelling) Dixon was able to beautifully combine elements of the original story while branching off in ways that fit so perfectly they could have easily been a part of the original.

One of the things that struck me the most was the way Dixon showed the importance of dancing to the princesses. Based on the summary, part of me was afraid that Azalea would be shallow and only interested in the "beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing" that the summary mentions. This, happily, is not the case. Dixon is able to convey, both in the first few chapters and throughout the book, how dancing is an integral part of the princesses' lives. Dixon also managed to write the dancing scenes so that both dancers and people with very little knowledge of dancing could easily enjoy them.

Another aspect I enjoyed was the backstory to why the princesses were not allowed to dance during the day, and the entire subplot between the princesses and the king, who is often not mentioned much in other retellings. In the first chapter of Entwined, Azalea visits her mother, who is sick, and promises to take care of her sisters. Spoiler-that-really-isn't-a-spoiler-at-all-because-it's-kind-of-inevitable-and-happens-within-the-first-two-chapters: the queen dies. So for a year the princesses are in mourning, which means they must wear black, stay inside with the curtains closed, and not dance. Usually it is not explained why the princesses go off at night, and I appreciated that this retelling had a backstory that explained everything. And the king- oh, the king. I loved this subplot. It was nearly as magical as the secret passage to see the relationship between the princesses and the king grow and change. Azalea has had to become the mother to all of her sisters, and when I saw that the girls were getting their father back I could have cheered (spoiler, highlight to view).

I really appreciated how Dixon was able to give a role to every sister. Every princess is named after a flower (like in Jessica Day George's Princess of the Midnight Ball), but the clever part is, they are each named alphabetically. To me, having the alphabetical names helped distinguish all of the different characters. Too often in retellings of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, I can remember three or four of the princesses, but the rest are all somewhat jumbled in my head. This made things so much clearer and helped define each princess as their own character. And although the story is told from Azalea's point of view, I grew to love the other princesses as their own characters. Bramble was hilarious, Clover was so sweet, and every one of the princesses down to little Kale, who bit people she didn't like, and baby Lily  who was born at the beginning of the book, was a joy to read about.

Speaking of Bramble, in addition to being lovely, Entwined was, at parts, incredibly funny. I didn't mark any quotes while reading, but I'm including two I found on Goodreads:

"Down with tyranny!' Bramble cried. 'Aristocracy! Autocracy! Monocracy! Other ocracy things! You are outnumbered, sir! Surrender!"

[In the midst of an argument with the King, when he forgets Clover's birthday]
"'You forgot my birthday too.'
     'And mine.'
     The girls looked miserable. The King opened his mouth, then shut it.
     'Sir!" Whined lord Teddie. "You forgot my birthday, too!'
     Bramble gave a surprised laugh, then slapped her hand over her mouth, as though shocked at letting it out. The tension broke. The girls laughed sheepishly, and Lord Teddie beamed. He probably did not have many ladies think him funny. In fact, he probably got slapped by a lot of them."
There is plenty left to talk about, but I'm only going to mention two more things. First is the Keeper. I thought he was close to perfectly written.  He seems so sincere, and his rottenness is only revealed as time passes. I didn't really understand how his magic worked, but I never felt a pressing need to figure it out, which I'm sure I could have if I needed, or if I reread it. I won't talk more about him in order to avoid spoilers, but he's a great character.

Last is the romance. In this regard, Dixon is brilliant. The oldest three princesses fall in love by the end of the book, and none of them are forced or out of place. The romance between Azalea and a certain person is wonderfully developed, and it feels completely natural to read about. You can tell that the man is perfect for her, and helps her throughout the book. (And the scene, where they finally get together is just so amazing. As soon as I finish this review, I am going to go back and reread it, since I just reminded myself how wonderful it is.) Bramble and Clover are also matched perfectly, although each is a bit of a surprise at first.

All in all, Entwined was wonderfully done. Highly recommended.

Note: I'm going out of order on my reviews because I wanted to get this posted in time to submit it for Small Review's Review Comparison for Entwined.


Allegra said...

I just finished reading Entwined, and, overall, I agree with you-- I thoroughly enjoyed it. The only thing I thought Heather Dixon could have done better was the inclusion of strong female characters. Yes, the book is narrated from Azalea's perspective, but in the end, I was still waiting for her to do something truly heroic-- something that would have been expected, indeed, required, from a male character.

Pica said...

I didn't notice that aspect at all when I was reading Entwined, but now that you mention it, Azalea never did anything truly heroic in the sense one usually expects. However, I think if she had, it would have been out of character for her. Yes, she does develop quite a bit as the story progresses, but she never seemed to be the type of character who would charge in with the sword and stab the Keeper, for example. She was still a true heroine in her way, but perhaps not in the way you were looking for. I found her heroism (in a different sense than if one was reading about a male main character) to be perfectly in character, so I think Dixon wrote the resolution perfectly in that aspect, but I do agree that overall, some of the sisters could be stronger characters. On the other hand, considering their situation, it wouldn't have been too realistic to have the princesses be as strong-willed and outspoken as we, as readers, would like them to be. (On the other other hand, we're talking about a book with magic passageways, so "realistic" might not be exactly what we're going for.)

Small Review said...

So glad you submitted! I haven't read your review yet because I STILL have to read the book! I'm so behind.

Pica said...

I'm really excited for this review comparison. I love hearing other people's insights on books I enjoyed. Thanks for putting it together, Small.


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