An imaginative, intriguing and spirited retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses."
Reveka, a smart, irreverent, outspoken and observant herbalist's apprentice with a "curiosity ailment," is determined to break the mysterious and powerful curse on the princesses of Sylvania, though anyone who tries either disappears or falls into a deathlike sleep. In a fictional region of 15th-century Romania (between Maramures and Transylvania), 13-year-old Reveka yearns for her own herbery in a convent, "a whitewashed room filled with northern sunlight and tall drying cabinets." Initially driven by Prince Vasile's promise of a large reward—for a woman, "a fabulous dowry," with which Reveka could buy her way into an abbey—Reveka's motivation and sense of urgency changes when her friend Didina is poisoned and must join the "sleepers" in the western tower. Writing from Reveka's point of view, Haskell departs from traditional renditions by handing the sleuthing reins to a strong (and compassionate) heroine whose resourcefulness extends even to the Underworld, the "Sunless House," where she's faced with a dizzying moral dilemma.
In this impressive debut, the author artfully weaves humor, suspense, magic and myth into an intricate plot, which includes the possibility of an improbable romance and more exciting stories to come; we hope so. (glossary, author's note) (Historical fantasy. 10 & up)