The Night Dance (Once Upon A Time series)
by Suzanne Weyn
Simon Pulse, 2005
Under the stars, in a secret world…
Rowena, the youngest of twelve sisters, loves to slip out of the castle at night and dance in a magical forest. Soon she convinces her sisters to join her. When Sir Ethan notices that his daughters’ slippers look tattered every morning, he is certain they’ve been sneaking out. So he posts a challenge to all the suitors in the kingdom: The first man to discover where his daughters have been is free to marry the one he chooses.
Meanwhile a handsome young knight named Bedivere is involved in a challenge of his own: to return the powerful sword, Excalibur, to a mysterious lake. While looking for the lake, Bedivere meets the beautiful Rowena and falls for her. Bedivere knows that accepting Sir Ethan’s challenge is the only opportunity for him to be with Rowena forever. But this puts both Bedivere and Rowena in a dangerous situation…one in which they risk their lives for a chance at love.
The Night Dance is a retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I am telling the Grimm fairy tale at my Grad school on-campus day for my Storytelling class, so was reading as many versions of the story as I could find in order to come up with my own personal version. I am sticking much more with the traditional than this story does, but it was definitely the most interesting retelling that I’ve seen thus far.
This version combines the normal fairy tale with Arthurian legend. The man who figures out how the girls are dancing their shoes to pieces each night is the last remaining Knight of the Round Table. Arthur told him to take Excalibur and return it to the Lady in the Lake, so Bevidere sets out to do so. Along the way he meets Rowena, the youngest daughter of Sir Ethan, who has snuck out of the walled-in Manor that her and her sisters have grown up in. See, their mother mysteriously disappeared when Rowena was young, and Ethan locked them all in the Manor grounds for fear that he would lose them, too. Anyway, it turns out that Vivienne, the girls’ mother, is actually the Lady of the Lake, and she disappeared because Morgan Le Fay cursed her. So the girls’ dancing curse – which doesn’t start until nearly 3/4 of the way through the book – is set on them by Morgan, who doesn’t want them to free their mother.
This fairy tale is – like many of the Grimm tales – quite dark when you think about it, especially since the King (or father of the girls) says that he’ll kill any of the men who fail to determine how the girls are dancing their shoes to pieces. Thankfully Weyn didn’t go that way of things, and both men who attempt to figure it out what’s going on both survive and get happily-ever-afters. The romance between Rowena and Bevidere is a sort of wham, bam, all of a sudden, which is written off as their being “soul mates”. I did like how they first become aware of each other, though, and how they first meet; that was well done.
One thing I’ve always hated about this story is that the sisters don’t seem to care one whit about the men they’re leading to their deaths by drugging them and not allowing them to find the truth. In the version I’m telling, I made it part of the enchantment that they couldn’t NOT drug them, but felt suitably sad about it; I can’t imagine anyone being so callous as to not mind being the cause of several men’s deaths. The eldest sister, Eleanore, is very much a not-so-sympathetic character, because even after her drugging of the first man, and the subsequent near-death of him, she’s still unwilling to tell the truth, and just decides to dilute the drugs a bit for the second man. I did like that Weyn shortened the years this story takes place in by having the men who want to attempt to solve the mystery draw a number and go in one after the other; this way only two men total are affected in any way by what’s going on.
In short, this is a very interesting retelling of a famous fairy tale with just enough twists in the storyline to make it seem brand new. The characters are likable enough, particularly the two main ones, and the combination with Arthurian legend actually worked really well. It was a very enjoyable read.