I'm always up for another fairy tale retelling, and the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses has always been one of my favourites. Maybe it's the little details, like the worn out slippers, or the snap of a branch that almost gives away the invisible soldier. Maybe it's the old soldier himself, such a departure from typical fairy-tale heroes, and the youngest princess who is perceptive enough to recognize his value.
In Princess of the Midnight Ball, Jessica Day George takes everything I like about this fairy tale and makes it better! Galen, the soldier, is completely swoon-worthy. He's not so old, but he started young so he has lots of soldierly experience and the world-weariness that comes of it. He's capable, but humble, but stands up for himself. He's funny. And he knits! (George points out in an afterword that knitting used to be an exclusively male activity: who knew?!)
The princesses in this version of the story have a realistic age range from seventeen to seven years old, so we get some nice family dynamics, and it's Rose, the oldest, who has the burden of dealing with all her sisters and the curse they are under. So it's Rose that Galen feels impelled to cheer up, and it's Rose he's willing to risk his life for to solve the mystery that's tearing the kingdom apart.
Great characters, intriguing explanation for the dancing, some nice plot twists thrown in to up the stakes--a thoroughly satisfying read. I'm going to look for the next two Princess books from George.
Like chewy homemade condensed-milk caramels: sweet but with substance.