Brightly clad creatures, strange-sounding instruments, colored lights shaped like birds and flowers, and five human sisters (Tatiana, Jenica, Iulia, Paula and Stela) all play a part in the revelry that takes place in the Dancing Glade under a full moon in Wildwood Dancing, Australian fantasy writer Juliet Marillier’s first young adult novel. Ever since Jena, 15, the narrator of the story, and Tati, 16, discovered a portal to the Other Kingdom nine years ago, they have been making secret monthly jaunts to the glade from their Transylvanian castle, Piscul Dracului.
Several factors in both the human world and the Other Kingdom threaten to end the girls’ magical dancing parties. Unsure whether he can sustain another brutal Transylvanian winter, their widowed, merchant father heads for a milder climate. The Night People enter the wildwood, bringing alluring promises to see the future, and Sorrow, a mysterious young man who captures Tati’s heart. With no male heirs residing at Piscul Dracului, the girls’ older (and aptly named) cousin, Cezar, seizes control of the estate and enlists neighboring folk to violently drive out the Night People.
Jena also confronts a personal dilemma when a kiss to her faithful and loving advisor, a talking frog named Gogu, begets a monster rather than a prince. Could the difficulties at home and in the wildwood stem from a childhood game in which Draguta, witch of the wood, demanded a hefty price as payment for Jena to become Queen of the Fairies? To restore peace to the wildwood, unite Tati with her true love and claim her own love, Jena must learn to trust her instincts and let her sisters live their own lives, even if that means saying goodbye forever.
Marillier concludes this enchanting novel with a brief note on the mythology and folklore of the Transylvanian region. Blending Little Women, The Chronicles of Narnia, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet and the author’s own fanciful creations, this romantic historical fantasy is destined to become a classic.
Angela Leeper is a writer and former ballroom dancer (but only in the human world) in Wake Forest, North Carolina.