Author Review – Jessica Day George
Recently I read a good book. It was a bit strange, as I was half certain I had already read this particular book, but as it was a fairy tale I wasn’t entirely certain. After all, everyone knows how the fairy tale is going to end and who the main characters are. This was further complicated by the fact that I know I have read more than one telling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. In the end, it doesn’t matter if I had read Princess of the Midnight Ball before or not. I read it recently and I enjoyed.
In fact, I enjoyed it so much I checked out the other titles by the author Jessica Day George. It my utter delight she had written two other Princess books: Princess of Glass and Princess of the Silver Woods. Both books were retellings of fairy tales – Cinderella and Red Riding Hood respectively. I enjoyed both.
The first book focusses on the classic story of twelve sisters forced to dance every night until their shoes are worn out. The helpful strange, cloaked with invisibility is the only one able to follow secretly after the princesses, discover what they are doing and help free them. As I said, the tale is classic. The author told it in a world like and unlike ours, set in some fantasy medieval period. It was filled with tiny kingdoms and a bit of magic. If there was any complaint to make I would say that the story lacked depth. It felt simplistic and flitted between several characters without the depth I would have preferred. In this manner the characters moved across the pages, playing their respective roles. Yet, I never felt drawn into their personal conflicts. I suspect this is in part due to the fairy nature of the story and the emphasis being placed more on the world than the inhabitants.
I preferred the second of the books which was surprisingly a sequel. The main character was one of the twelve dancing princesses visiting a different character. I liked the different and not entirely flattering portrayal of Cinderella. I was also surprised by how much I liked the Princess as she reacted to the trauma (forced dancing) of her childhood. Here there was more emphasis on characters than setting and I enjoyed the story much more for it. I also appreciated the link to the first book.
The third book in the series also followed one of the original twelve dancing princesses – the youngest. It was a different twist on Red Riding Hood which was good, but not great. I feel that the author missed a fantastic opportunity to really play with the Red Riding Hood characters. I also wasn’t whelmed to the continuation of the first book’s plot. I understand why we came full circle to the main problem of the first story, I just wasn’t enamoured with it. I would have preferred more of a character piece, which I think is the strength of the author.
Overall, these are good, fun, fairy tales. A great young adult read. As such I was then tempted to read move of Jessica Day George’s books. Her Dragon Trilogy was great original fun. I liked the dragons and who they fit into the world. I liked the main female and her love of sewing (another thing I liked about the Princess books was the incorporation of knitting – being a knitter myself).
By far the best book in the series was the first: the Dragon Slippers. This is where we were introduced to the main character, to the world and importantly to the dragons. The dragon hoards are the very best part of the series. The following two books, Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear where good but not as great. The first book held mystery and adventure. So many things happened. When I reflect back on the story, things that didn’t make sense at the time or seemed like the author pushing the story ahead were actually explained. These events didn’t just happen because. They followed in world logic and plot making a cohesive and tight narrative. The second two books lacked the complexity of the plot.
If I had to choose I would place preference for the Princess books over the Dragon books. Why? The Princess books are written for a slightly older audience, the stories feel slightly more complex as do the characters. Also, I have a bias towards retellings of fairy tales – my new obsession.
In summary, Jessica Day George is a good author of children/young adult fantasy adventures. Her writing is fun and imaginative and her characters have some scope. Her work is set in comfortable fantasyland, that may not be revolutionary it is extremely appropriate for these stories. I would recommend her books.