Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, Evening Primrose, Flora, Goldenrod, Hollyhock, Ivy, Jessamine, Kale and Ivy.
Twelve daughters of the King Harold, the eleventh, who love to dance more than anything else. They live in the Kingdom of Eathesbury which we learn, has a very dark past. Many centuries ago, the High King, D'Eathe, was an evil man who tortured and killed anyone who strayed into his magic palace. He was eventually killed and his palace unmagicked by Harold the First, Azalea's ninth great-grandfather. Bits of magic still exist like the silver handkerchief Azalea's mother gives her.
Shortly after the birth of the twelfth princess, Lily, drastic change comes to the palace. Their mother dies and the palace is plunged into mourning. The windows are draped in black and the twelve princesses wear black gowns. All fun is postponed, especially dancing. The young princesses feel trapped.
Soon the King leaves to fight a war. The twelve princesses are left alone in the palace, still shrouded in black for their mourning period. They are angry at their father, whom they see as distant and cold. In what is a time of great need, they see their father as abandoning them.
Azalea, the Princess Royale, learns from the handsome Lord Bradford before he leaves with the King, that there are still pockets of magic in the palace. His father and the King use to play in magic passages that can be located by the D'Eathe mark.
One night Azalea discovers a portal to one of the magic passages in the princess's bedroom. This passage opened by the silver handkerchief her mother gave her, leads her and her sisters to an enchanting silver forest with a dancing pavilion in the middle of a silver pond. There they meet the Keeper, who tells them he was once a Lord in the King D'Eathe's court. When Harold the First led the rebellion against King D'Eathe, the Keeper joined in and was banished to the forest by the King. Trapped there forever, he keeps things.
Azalea is enchanted at first by the Keeper. He is a wonderful dancer and has a voice as smooth as chocolate. Her and her sisters are so enchanted by the magical silver forest that on their second night of dancing they swear an oath to come each night to dance and not to tell anyone, especially the King. But Azalea soon discovers that the Keeper, although handsome and magicked, has a frightening dark side to him. It is an oath the come to regret.
Night after night Azalea and her sisters return to dance at the Pavilion. When Azalea confronts the Keeper he asks Azalea to find the object in the palace that holds a special power over him rendering him captive below. When Azalea is unable to locate the object and tries to leave off coming to see the Keeper, she begins to suspect just how evil he is.
The King upon his return has learned that his daughters are dancing each night and he posts a notice that any man who can attempt to solve the riddle of where his daughters dance will have a chance to meet the Princess Royale for three days. Azalea and her sister's are furious. Unable to tell anyone about the dancing because of the oath, and Azalea and her sisters are trapped between leaving forever or harming those they love and all they hold dear.
Entwined is a superb and imaginative retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses that mostly works. It's a difficult task to come up with an original retelling of a fairytale that can hold the reader's interest, but Dixon succeeds. Entwined is a mix of romance, fairytale, mystery and horror.
What I found intriguing was the contrast in the book between the happy innocence of the princesses and the dark and cruel history of the D'Eathe kingdom. This gory theme formed an undercurrent throughout the book. Entwined explores themes of love, loss and loyalty.
Another aspect I really enjoyed was the magicked items in the palace. These were items that behaved in a human way because they had "charms" placed on them. This was a delicious touch that I wish Dixon had employed with greater frequency because they added a touch of humour to the novel.
The central characters, Azalea and the Keeper were well developed, although the Keeper was the more interesting of the two. There are twelve princesses although we only really interact with about five of them on a regular basis. For example, Hollyhock and Jessamine have only a few lines throughout the entire book.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed this book there are several things I didn't like about it. Readers should be aware that it takes some time to get going, mostly because the author spends more than a few chapters setting the scene and introducing us to the many characters.
A second more serious complaint I have is the length of the climax of the book - taking up 4 chapters and a total of 60 pages of a rapid succession of events that becomes tiring for the reader to slog through. In making Azalea the heroine, it seemed like the author required an "epic" battle for her to overcome. Shortening the ending would have made for a shorter read instead of the 472 pages that comprise Entwined.
Overall though, readers will love the twists in the plot, which will keep them guessing, as well as the satisfying ending.
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Greeenwillow Books (HarperCollins) 2011