Reworking the familiar ground of The Twelve Dancing Princesses into a story of resourcefulness and a loving heart, Zahler's debut deftly and thoughtfully embellishes the tale's classic elements. Banished to the life of a serving girl in the royal palace after her mother died in childbirth, Zita, at age seven, is shocked to learn she is the 13th daughter of harsh King Aricin. The sisters cherish Zita's stealthy visits to their bedroom via a hidden dumbwaiter, and despite the princesses' inability to secure husbands (they are rendered mute in the presence of suitors), all seems well until Zita turns 12 and her sisters sicken and take to their beds. As the princesses grow paler and more feeble, Zita's only clues are her sisters' mysteriously worn-out shoes. Suspecting evil magic, Zita enlists her friends--Breckin the stable boy, his soldier brother Milek, and Babette the forest witch--to help her. Zahler takes a light story and gives it gratifying depth, rounding out the characters and their motivations without betraying the source material and wrapping it all together in a graceful and cohesive romantic drama. Ages 8-12. (Feb.)[Page 49]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-8--Though clearly based on "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," this addition to the burgeoning field of fairy-tale novelizations alters the original tale more than most others. It is the youngest--13th--sister, rather than a visiting prince, who discovers why the princesses are wearing out their shoes (and suffering from exhaustion). Zahler has created this sister and her complicated backstory with somewhat uneven success. For the first seven years of her life, Zita's been banished to the kitchen of the very palace where (unbeknownst to her) her father and sisters dwell. Her father evidently hates her because she was his last attempt at fathering a male heir. After Cook spills the beans regarding her royal lineage, Zita ventures to have a clandestine sisterly relationship with the older girls, sneaking into their room at night and returning to the kitchen each morning. Something is clearly ailing her sisters, though, and Zita's friendships with a stable groom and a reclusive old woman in the woods give her the assistance and skills she needs to break through the destructive enchantment that's harming them. She earns the recognition and love of the king and--of course--the love of the stable groom, and they all live, just as you'd expect, happily ever after. In the hands of masters like Robin McKinley and Gail Carson Levine, fairy-tale expansions gain depth and nuance. Zahler's retelling doesn't fully humanize its characters. She adds complexity without much resonance, making her book entertaining, but not compelling.--Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY[Page 170]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.