Mysterious deaths plague an island dukedom in a loose retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”
Annaleigh Thaumas has spent the last few years mourning her mother and several sisters, who died in succession under increasingly eerie circumstances. Her remaining sisters chafe under the lifestyle restrictions of formal mourning on their small, isolated island home, especially their inability to wear pretty clothes and flirt with boys. When their young stepmother persuades their duke father to let them wear bright colors and start dancing again, Annaleigh and her sisters are relieved, especially when a mystical door in the family crypt conveniently transports them to glamorous ballrooms that provide venues to show off their new wardrobes. Annaleigh and her sisters read like interchangeable paper dolls, their painstakingly described gowns, jewels, and shoes the most distinguishing features about them; they spend their time screaming, swooning, and alternately competing for and cowering behind the men in their lives. The island setting is extremely one-note, as if an ocean-themed children’s party became an entire culture, and there is no consistent interior logic to the rules of magic and gods that seem to shift, like the tides and the weather, according to narrative convenience. The writing is self-consciously stiff, and the story reads like a mood board, full of repetitively atmospheric images and scenes but never creating a substantive whole. All characters are white.
More about costume than character or story. (Fairy tale retelling. 14-18)