Galen, a young soldier back from the war, is a new under-gardener for the King's castle grounds. Upon hearing the stories about the princesses' dancing shoes and chancing upon the beautiful eldest princess, Rose in the garden, Galen decides to ask the King if he himself could have a chance at uncovering the princesses' secret. With a purple cloak a mysterious beggar woman had given him, and the wisdom of an old gardener, Galen begins to unravel the mystery behind the worn dancing shoes, and realizes that this quest may lead to his fate.
I was fascinated with this book. It is such a vivid retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairytale, and I am always partial to a fairytale retelling! The setting had a very real medieval Europe feel to it, whilst still having the magical element and charm of a typical fairytale. The story opens with an easy-to-read pace, sucking you into the story by first capturing the essence of the setting before you fall in love with the characters. Galen is an admirable hero, full of energy and passion for what is right and good in the world. The author did admirably well creating twelve princesses that each had their own personality and air. Rose makes a wonderful older sister, so concerned for the welfare of all her sisters, and distraught by the fact there is a secret between themselves and her father. King Gregor is a wonderful king; though not without his flaws, he loves his daughters greatly and the protective kindness he shows for them is often touching.
The antagonist, King Under Stone, is lord over an underworld city. Once human, he had become too wicked above ground for the people to withstand, so the good magicians of the country imprisoned him underneath the surface of the earth. It is here the wickedness caused him to become much like living stone; a cold hearted and merciless ruler, living in his black underground castle with his twelve statue-like sons. It was a very interesting concept that the character is so evil that he turned literally into stone in comparison to the metaphor of "a heart of stone". Under Stone is a twisted character that doesn't keep his word, and doesn't care who he crushes. He is a stark contrast to upstanding heroes and heroines of the story and it portrays the evil of selfishness quite well.
The magical element of the story I thought was done quite well. It wasn't overwhelming, but there was enough there for it still to be a fairytale. There was also the fun element of Spoiler: a cloak of invisibility, which played well with my imagination! End Spoiler. There was nothing at all that I felt uncomfortable with, but found the book as a whole to be very entertaining and enjoyable. Of course, being a fairytale there was not a great many moral lessons you can take away from it, but the integrity and go-get-em-ness of the hero, and the sweet femininity of the princesses was refreshing to read. I give it over all 5 out of 5 for being an all round good read!