Combining several familiar fairy tales in her first novel for young readers, Australian author Marillier (Daughter of the Forest, for adults) crafts a romantic fantasy rich in detail, magical creatures and strong female characters. The Wildwood is a magical place ruled by Draguta, "the witch of the wood." For nine years, narrator Jenica (aka Jena) and her four sisters have secretly visited the Other Kingdom, which appears in the Wildwood every Full Moon and where they dance until morning. Though Tati is the oldest, 15-year-old Jena is the responsible sister; people find Jena a bit odd because she travels with a frog named Gogu ("My dearest friend, my inseparable companion and my wise advisor," says she). But the sisters' idyllic world begins to crumble when their cousin Cezar takes over running their estate, Piscul Dracului, while their father is away. Cezar hates and fears the Other Kingdom as much as Jena and her sisters love it. He plans to destroy the trees in the Wildwood, and Jena frantically seeks a way to save the magical world. Marillier weaves the tale of the frog prince into this lush novel, peopled with vampires and forest witches, and adds a surprise twist (involving Jena and her amphibian companion). Ages 12-up. (Jan.)Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Sarah Flowers
Teens have long been fans of Marillier's adult-marketed titles, and her first book, Daughter of the Forest (Tor, 2000/VOYA December 2000), was an Alex Award winner. Her first book for teens is another winner. Jena and her four sisters live at Piscul Dracului in Transylvania with their widowed father. Every month at Full Moon, the sisters pass through a portal to the Other Kingdom, where they dance with fairy folk, dwarves, and other forest people. But now their father is ill and has gone away to a warmer place for the winter, and their cousin Cezar has arrived, trying to take control over Piscul Dracului and the girls. Meanwhile, at one of the Full Moon dances, Jena's older sister Tati meets and falls in love with one of the Night People, and Jena is sure nothing good can come of it. Jena tries to keep her family together, encouraged by her oldest friend, a frog named Gogu who can communicate only with Jena, but Cezar thwarts her at every turn. Readers of folk tales will recognize elements of several different ones here and may even anticipate some of the events of the story as Jena learns some truths about trust, betrayal, bravery, and true love. Marillier is one of literature's finest storytellers, and this book continues her tradition of telling stories with a striking sense of place, magical elements, beautifully portrayed characters, strong heroines, and an emotional core that touches the heart.
KLIATT - Donna Scanlon
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, January 2007: Marillier turns to the magic and mystery of Transylvania for her newest novel. Jena, her older sister Tatiana, and her younger sisters Iulia, Paula and Stela all have a secret: every month on the night of the Full Moon, they open a secret portal into the Other Kingdom for a night of dancing among fairies, dwarves and trolls. The rest of the time, they keep house for their widowed merchant father and help with his business at Piscul Dracului. When her ill father leaves to spend the winter in a warmer climate, Jena's cousin Cezar begins to try to control Jena, her sisters, and their home. Furthermore, Tatiana becomes enraptured with a young man she meets in the Other Kingdom, who may be one of the dangerous and frightening Night People. Only the support of her sisters and of her enchanted frog Gogu sustains Jena in her ordeal. Marillier blends a variety of fantasy elements into her story: the sisters who slip off to dance in the fairy kingdom, the enchanted frog, and the legends of the bloodthirsty vampires of the region. The narrative is mesmerizing and tightly constructed from the beginning to the wholly satisfying end. Light humor enhances the story and rescues it from potentially overwhelming gloom. Jena and her sisters are delightful characters, strong and determined even in the face of the disaster. Cezar seems a tad heavy-handed at times, but Marillier manages to inspire sympathy for his character as well. Wildwood Dancing will appeal widely to YAs who like authors such as Patricia McKillip. (The stunning and detailed cover is by Kinuko Y. Craft, illustrator for most of McKillip's books.) In spite of its teenagedprotagonist, it will appeal to older readers as well. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) Reviewer: Donna Scanlon
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up
This riveting story about 16-year-old Jenica; her pet frog, Gogu; and her four sisters takes place between the fairy world and the family's Romanian estate of Piscul Dracului. When the girls were young, they discovered a mysterious portal that appears every full moon and allows them access to the Dancing Glade in the Other Kingdom. They dress in the finest gowns and spend all night dancing with a host of bizarre and enchanting fairy creatures. Unfortunately, the girls' simple and carefree lives change drastically when their father becomes ill and must spend the winter in the milder climate of Constanta. Jenica takes charge of the estate and the family's merchant business but their overbearing, power-hungry cousin, Cezar, interferes with their affairs and questions the sisters' knowledge of the Other Kingdom. As he tightens the noose around them, everything Jenica has come to love-her sisters, her frog, her home, and the Dancing Glade-is in jeopardy. To make matters worse, her sister Tatiana has fallen in love with one of the mysterious and feared Night people. This relationship is doomed from the start and it is up to Jenica to make things right-but to do so she will be put to the ultimate test. Strong characters, two fully realized settings, and a fast-moving plot guarantee that readers will be spellbound by this page-turner.
Donna RosenblumCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Two Grimm's tales, a Transylvanian forest and purple prose combine in an entrancing rush of romance. Jena, the second-oldest of five sisters, has responsibility thrust upon her when her ailing father leaves, her elder sister falls in love with pale Sorrow from another realm and her aggressive, bitter cousin Cezar takes over the castle and finances. In childhood, Jena, Cezar and his older brother Costi were granted magical wishes in exchange for something dear. Costi drowned that day and Cezar hungers to destroy the Other Kingdom, where Jena and her sisters secretly go dancing every Full Moon. Jena's only solace is constant companion Gogu, a frog who shares her pocket, shoulder and pillow. Marillier falters in some ways; for example, Jena's primary struggle is supposedly between instinct and duty, but both sides read like instinct. Also, the narrative blames Jena more than seems fair. However, the consuming gothic love of Tati and Sorrow, and Jena's burdened but intoxicating relationship with her own slow-to-show true love, will sweep romance fans away. (author's note, glossary, pronunciation guide) (Fantasy. 10-14)
From the Publisher
Starred review, School Library Journal, February 2007:
"Strong characters, two fully realized settings, and a fast-moving plot guarantee that readers will be spellbound by this page-turner."
Read an Excerpt
I’ve heard it said that girls can’t keep secrets. That’s wrong: we’d proved it. We’d kept ours for years and years, ever since we came to live at Piscul Dracului and stumbled on the way into the Other Kingdom. Nobody knew about it—not Father, not our housekeeper, Florica, or her husband, Petru, not Uncle Nicolae or Aunt Bogdana or their son, Cezar. We found the portal when Tati was seven and I was six, and we’d been going out and coming in nearly every month since then: nine whole years of Full Moons. We had plenty of ways to cover our absences, including a bolt on our bedchamber door and the excuse that my sister Paula sometimes walked in her sleep.
I suppose the secret was not completely ours; Gogu knew. But even if frogs could talk, Gogu would never have told. Ever since I’d found him long ago, crouched all by himself in the forest, dazed and hurt, I had known I could trust him more than anyone else in the world.
It was the day of Full Moon. In the bedchamber our gowns and shoes were laid out ready; combs, bags, and hair ornaments were set beside them. Nothing would be touched now, until the household was safely in bed. Fortunately, it was rare for Florica to come up to our room, because it was at the top of a flight of stairs, and stairs made her knees hurt. I did wonder how much Florica knew or guessed. She must have noticed how quiet we always were on the night of Full Moon, and how exhausted we were when we stumbled down to breakfast the next morning. But if she knew, Florica didn’t say a thing.
During the day we kept up our normal activities, trying not to arouse suspicion. Paula helped Florica cook fish ciorb?a, while Iulia went out to lend a hand to Petru, who was storing away sacks of grain to last us over the winter. Iulia did not enjoy the hard work of the farm, but at least, she said, it made the time go more quickly. Tati was teaching Stela to read: I had seen the two of them ensconced in a warm corner of the kitchen, making letters in a tray of wet sand.
I sat in the workroom with Father, reconciling a set of orders with a record of payments. I was good with figures and helped him regularly with such tasks. The merchant business in which he was a partner with his cousin, whom we called Uncle Nicolae, kept the two of them much occupied. Gogu sat on the desk, keeping himself to himself, though once or twice I caught his silent voice—the one only I could hear.
You’re upset, Jena.
“Mmm,” I murmured, not wanting to get into a real conversation with him while both Father and his secretary, Gabriel, were in the room. My family didn’t truly believe that I sometimes knew what Gogu was thinking. Even my sisters, who had long ago accepted that this was no ordinary frog, thought that I was deluding myself—putting my own words into the frog’s mouth, perhaps. I knew that was wrong. I’d had Gogu since I was a small girl, and the things he told me definitely didn’t come from my own head.
Don’t be sad. Tonight is Full Moon.
“I can’t help it, Gogu. I’m worried. Now hush, or Father will hear me.”
Father was trying to write a letter. He kept coughing, and in between bouts he struggled to catch his breath. Tomorrow he would be leaving on a journey to the port of Constan¸ta, in the milder climate of the Black Sea coast. His doctor had told him, sternly, that if he tried to get through another winter at Piscul Dracului in his present ill health, he would be dead before the first buds opened on the oaks. We five sisters would be looking after the place on our own, right through the winter. Of course, Uncle Nicolae would help with the business, and Florica and Petru with the house and farm. It was not so much the extra responsibility that troubled me. Father was away often enough on business and we had coped before, though not for so long. What chilled me was the thought that when we said goodbye in the morning, it might be forever.
At supper we were all quiet. I was thinking about what Father had confided to Tati and me earlier. Up till then, none of us had mentioned the possibility that Father might die of this illness, for to say that aloud would be to put the unthinkable into words. But Father had wanted his eldest daughters to be prepared for whatever might happen. Should he die before any of us girls married and bore a son, he’d explained, both Piscul Dracului and Father’s share of the business would go to Uncle Nicolae, as the closest male relative. We were not to worry. If the worst should occur, Uncle Nicolae would see we were provided for.
Uncle Nicolae’s family home was called Vârful cu Negur?a: Storm Heights. His house was quite grand, set on a hillside and surrounded by birch and pine forest. He ran a prosperous farm and a timber business, as well as the trading ventures that had made him wealthy. When we were little, we had lived in the merchant town of Bra¸sov, and Vârful cu Negur?a had been a place we visited as a special treat. It was hard to say what I had loved best about it: the dark forest, the forbidden lake, or the excitement of playing with our big cousins, who were both boys.
But there was no doubt at all what Father had loved. Next door to Vârful cu Negur?a was Piscul Dracului, Devil’s Peak. Father had first seen the empty, crumbling castle, set on a high spur of rock, when he was only a boy. Our father was an unusual kind of person, and as soon as he clapped eyes on Piscul Dracului he wanted to live there. There’d been nobody to inherit the ruin and the tract of wildwood that went with it; perhaps the many strange tales attached to the place had frightened people away. The owner had died long ago. Florica and Petru had been custodians of the place for years, looking after the empty chambers and eking out a living from the small farm, for they were hardworking, thrifty folk.
Father had waited a long time to achieve his dream. He had worked hard, married, and fathered daughters, bought and sold, scrimped and saved. When he’d set enough silver aside from his merchant ventures, trading in silk carpets and bear skins, spices and fine porcelain, he’d quietly paid a large sum to an influential voivode, gone into partnership with Uncle Nicolae, and moved our family into Piscul Dracului.
I think Mother would have preferred to stay in Bra¸sov, for she feared the tales folk told about the old castle. It looked as if it had grown up out of the forest, with an assortment of bits and pieces sprouting from every corner: tiny turrets, long covered walkways, squat round towers, arches, and flagpoles. The eccentric nobleman who had built it had probably been someone just like Father. People seldom ventured into the forest around Piscul Dracului. There was a lake deep within the wildwood, a place unofficially known as the Deadwash, though its real name was prettier: T?aul Ielelor, Lake of the Nymphs. Every family had a dark story about the Deadwash. We got ours soon after we moved into the castle. When I was five years old, my cousin Costi—Uncle Nicolae’s eldest son—drowned in T?aul Ielelor. I was there when it happened. The things folk said about the lake were true.
Before Father became so ill, Tati and I had scarcely given a thought to such weighty matters as what might happen to Piscul Dracului, with no son to inherit our father’s property. My elder sister was a dreamer, and I had a different kind of future in mind for myself: one in which I would work alongside my father, traveling and trading and seeing the world. Marriage and children were secondary in my scheme of things. Now—with Father’s cough ringing in our ears, and his white face regarding us across the supper table—they had become a frightening reality. I remembered Aunt Bogdana saying that sixteen was the ideal age for a young woman to wed. Tati was already in her seventeenth year; I was only one year younger.
Father went off to bed as soon as the meal was over; he’d hardly touched his food. The others disappeared to our bedchamber, but I waited for Florica to bank up the fire in the big stove and for Petru to bolt the front door, and for the two of them to retire to their sleeping quarters. Then it was safe, and I ran up the stairs to our chamber, my worries set aside for now, my heart beating fast with an anticipation that was part joy, part fear. At last it was time.
The long room we sisters shared had four round windows of colored glass: soft violet, blood-red, midnight-blue, beech-green. Beyond them the full moon was sailing up into the night sky. I put Gogu on a shelf to watch as I took off my working dress and put on my dancing gown, a green one that my frog was particularly fond of. Paula was calmly lighting our small lanterns, to be ready for the journey.
With five girls, even the biggest bedchamber can get crowded. As Tati fastened the hooks on my gown, I watched Iulia twirling in front of the mirror. She was thirteen now, and developing the kind of curvaceous figure our Mother had had. Her gown was of cobalt silk and she had swept her dark curls up into a circlet of ribbon butterflies. We had become clever, over the years, in our use of the leftovers from Father’s shipments. He was good at what he did, but buying Piscul Dracului had eaten up a lot of his funds and, even in partnership with his wealthy cousin, he was still making up for lost ground. I saw the books every day—he had been unable to conceal from me that finances remained very tight. We sisters had to improvise. We made one new dancing gown anytime a cargo contained a little more of a certain fabric than the buyer had requested. I wore Tati’s hand-me-downs; Paula wore mine. Iulia, with her fuller figure, did rather better, because she could not fit into either Tati’s clothes or mine. All the same, she complained; she would have liked a whole wardrobe of finery. Tati was clever with her needle, and adjusted old things of Mother’s to fit her. Mother was gone. We had lost her when our youngest sister was born. Stela was only five—easy to dress.
From the Hardcover edition.