Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier was born in New Zealand in 1948 and currently lives in Australia. She has eleven books published, information pills mostly for adults; this and its sequel, click Cybele’s Secret, are her contributions to the YA genre. Her educational history involves a bachelor’s degree in music, in (as far as I can tell) vocal performance; she has sung in operas and conducted choirs at various points in her life, as well as taught music on various levels. She has two dogs and a tri-colored (presumably calico) cat; currently she’s working on a novel entitled Heart’s Blood, but I do not know if it’s related to any of her other novels.

Wildwood Dancing is set in Transylvania, some years ago, in a rather remote part of the country. Jena and her four sisters are the daughters of a widowed trader; they live in a castle right on the edge of the wildwood. Many things are said to inhabit the wildwood; some are harmless and some not so. Some nine years ago, the sisters discovered that they could enter the land of the fey on the night of the full moon, and dance with the trolls and pixies and the royalty of fairyland all night. They’ve been doing it ever since, until one night, when the dark ones (vampires) come to the celebration, and Jena’s older sister Tati falls in love with one of them. Now she is pining away, and Jena’s cousin Cezar is threatening to cut down the forest. What can Jena do?

This is a complicated book; at times it feels like Ms. Marillier was trying to incorporate everything into one novel, and she succeeds. It’s a love story, a vampire story, about four different fairy tales, a Transylvanian folk tale, a coming-of-age story, and a story about power, especially women’s. I see it as a bit like a Bach fugue: so many layers, all telling a different story at different times, but coming together to produce infinite variations at any given moment in time and a seamless, coherent whole. I suppose more textile-ly inclined readers might have compared it to a tapestry, especially one of the large ones with many small figures, but it has more depth than just two dimensions, to me.

I liked Jena as a character quite a bit; she was smart, but not the smartest one in her family; pretty, but certainly not the prettiest; level-headed, but not always so. While she certainly has a remarkable amount of strength of character and will, she still makes mistakes, and is not always right. Despite that, I liked her voice, and thought that she was an excellent narrator. Her sisters are all a bit less round than she is: Tati is pretty in an ethereal way, Iulia is pretty in a more earthy way, Paula is the smart one, and Stella is the baby of the family. However, I do look forward to reading more about Paula in the sequel.

Some plot elements I saw coming from miles away, and others I missed completely. I enjoyed what Ms. Marillier had included from Transylvanian folk tales, and I thought her setting sounded beautiful in a way that doesn’t generally exist among civilization. All the forests near me have, essentially, been tamed, and in some ways, the forest itself represented a character as much as a setting. In short, I would highly recommend this book for YAs as well as adults, and anyone interested in fairy tales. Those who don’t generally read vampire stories will find this one quite a bit different from a standard vampire tale, and would hopefully find the vampires in it more to their tastes than the tragic, misunderstood, highly attractive characters from other contemporary vampire tales. 5/5 stars.

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