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Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

02/03/2009. Contributed by Eamonn Murphy

Buy Wildwood Dancing in the USA - or Buy Wildwood Dancing in the UK

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pub: TOR-UK. 369 page hardback. Price: 14.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-4050-5204-X.

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'Wildwood Dancing' is narrated by Jena who lives with her four sisters, her successful merchant father and a couple of servants at Piscal Draculii, meaning Devil's Peak, an old castle set on a high spur of rock in the forests of Transylvania.

When the moon is full, Jena and her sisters link their hands to form a five-pointed star-shaped shadow on the wall of an alcove in their bedroom and a portal opens to the Other World. They discovered it accidentally when much younger, playing at forming bunny rabbit shadows.

For years, as the story begins, they have been entering the Other Forest and dancing the night away with gnomes, dwarves, elves and fairies. Jena is the sensible sister, aware that there are sinister aspects to the Other World and has always kept an eye on her kin. However, the Night People have come to the dancing glade now and her sister Tati has fallen madly in love with a mournful youth among them.

The Night People have pointy teeth and are rumoured to drink human blood. The other Other World dwellers don't care for them much but there is a general policy of live and let live. The Other World intersects with our own at several places in the forest they share and Transylvanian tales of vanishing children and bewitched men serve to keep the peasants on their toes. The usual policy is that if you respect the Other Folk they will leave you alone - mostly.

Jena's cousin, Cezar, is not of this belief. He lost his elder brother to evil creatures long ago and is dedicated to one day felling the whole forest and putting an end to them. When Jena's father has to go away for his health to a warmer clime, this rough relative tries to edge his way into control at Piscul Draculii, even though her Dad left Jena in charge. When Cezar's own father dies in a hunting accident, all restraints are off.

He becomes top man in the district and takes over everything. Jena has two crises to face, the romantic attachment of her sister to a Night Person and the loss of control at home to Cezar. Luckily, she has a talking frog to help her. She found it in the forest years ago and takes it with her everywhere. Only she can hear his voice though so everyone else thinks she's a bit potty.

There are no prizes for guessing what happens with the frog.

My slightly facetious description of the story is unfair. Juliet Marillier is a very accomplished professional and delivers the tale with her usual entrancing smoothness. The different personalities are well rendered, the suspense is built up gradually and the plight of the lead character engages the readers' sympathy. Jena is an ordinary girl, not quite beautiful but thoroughly decent and trying to do her best. It will be easy for the target audience of young adult females to identify with her.

I am a grumpy middle-aged man and I managed. The book is enjoyable, very readable and concludes very satisfactorily. It will be a treat for the girls and is a pleasant pastime too for any brutish bloke who wants to expand his sensibilities. I did and am a better man thereby.

Funny creatures, though, women: they spend a lot of time worrying about frocks.

Eamonn Murphy

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