Domestic Goddess Reads ‘Entwined’ by Heather Dixon

12 Apr

Did my past self promise that I would post the opening discussion post on April 11th? Yesterday? That was so cute and naive, past-Charis. It’s sweet how you still believe that future-Charis will do things on schedule! Past-Charis didn’t think through the fact that last week involved a big project (which you will hear about in Sunday’s post!) that took over most of our free time, and things have been a little behind, including the posting schedule here.

But now it’s 11pm on April 12, and I am about to lay some book discussion on you. Are you ready?

I’m going to keep my comments mostly to the first half of the book, partly because I know some people are still reading and partly because I haven’t had time to finish re-reading the book myself and coming up with thoughtful and intelligent things to say about it. So today I’ll talk about some of my general responses to the book, especially the beginning, and next week (if future-Charis gets her butt in gear) I’ll do another post focusing on the second half of the book.  And in between I hope that you’ll all comment on this post with your thoughts and reactions to Entwined (and please don’t feel the need to restrict yourself to comments about the first half–say whatever if on your minds!)

Here we go, In Which Charis Has Thoughts About Entwined:

One of the first things that comes to mind is how much I enjoy the setting. I really like the vaguely-Victorian/magical world, and I like the warm quirkiness of this odd and shabby castle. I think it makes a great backdrop for the style of the story, and makes a story about princesses and magic somehow very grounded and down to earth. I thought that the idea of the castle and its magical history were a good device for incorporating the fairy tale in a way that made sense–by the way, if you aren’t already familiar with the story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, you can read it here at SurLaLune.

The story, of course, centers on the princesses, and I adored them–it’s easy to tell that Dixon is from a large family, and as part of a large family myself I definitely related to the dynamic of multiple siblings. Dixon captures the kind of organized chaos that comes with big families and the way that close siblings operate with a pack mentality, and even though most of the younger princesses only speak or are mentioned specifically a few times there’s still a sense that each one has a distinct personality, which I thought was very well done. I also like Princess Azalea–she is so absolutely an eldest sister. Being the oldest girl is, I think, a very distinct role, especially in a family with multiple younger siblings. I can spot an eldest sister immediately, and I definitely related to Azalea’s relationship with her sisters as not-quite-mothery, not-quite-teachery, but still a figure of vague authority.

The other sister that we see the most of is Bramble, and I adore her too–she provides a lot of lively humor and makes a great foil to Azalea (who is busy trying to be serious and hold up all of her sisters after the death of her mother). And how wonderful and adorable is the description of the sisters’ tradition of spying on the ball?

These are sisters after my own heart.

I’ll mention, though, that I did sometimes get distracted with wondering where is Princess Lily? Whenever she wasn’t specifically mentioned I would worry about who had the baby? Maybe it’s because in my last NaNoWriMo project I thought it would be hilarious to throw in a toddler, and then I spent the next one hundred pages forgetting about her and had to repeatedly go back and make sure I had one of the other characters keeping an eye on her. Maybe it’s just because I’m an eldest sister, and part of being the eldest sister is usually keeping track of who has the baby. I’ll also mention that while as I rule I’m not a fan of people naming their children in patterns (alphabetically or, worst of all, all the same letter then everyone has the same initials how is that not a terrible idea), the alphabetically names of the princesses in Entwined is very handy for keeping track of their order!

I loved that dance was such a strong thread throughout the book–it’s only natural, considering the source fairy tale, but none of the other retellings that I’ve read have handled it so well and made it so naturally central.

I don’t think that is snippet is meant to portray Azalea as shallow or silly. Rather, I love that Azalea experiences and understands the world through dance–it’s an integral part of her identity, of her relationship with her mother, of her relationship with her sisters. It’s part of how she processes emotion. This is a great device because it sets up the central element of the book and the fairy tale, the fact that the princesses are forced to sneak off in secret to dance at night.

Speaking of the King, I thought that the tension between him and the princesses was also well handled–reading it with my grown-up brain I can see that here is a man who is dealing with his grief (and has been during the two years of his wife’s illness) by making the rest of his world excessively organized and orderly, to the point of unintentionally damaging his relationship with his daughters, but of course Azalea doesn’t see that because her focus is on her sisters. This flaw in understanding and communication is kind of heartbreaking, but again plays into the plot as Azalea and her sisters promise to keep their dancing a secret.

And since we’re on that plot point, can I mention how much I like the fact that this story emphasizes the fact that decisions and promises made in anger and bitterness are destructive? I appreciated that element a lot.

These comments are really very broad strokes over the book–I don’t want to go on forever, so I haven’t dug into too much detail, and also it is now after midnight–but next week I’ll try to dig a little deeper. In the meantime, what are your thoughts, deep or general, about Entwined? Did you like the way the fairy tale was retold? What did you think of the setting and the characters? Tell me everything!

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6 Responses to “Domestic Goddess Reads ‘Entwined’ by Heather Dixon”

  1. Sharon April 13, 2012 at 12:36 am #

    Yay! I’m excited for this discussion. :)

    I, too, liked the slow evolution of the girls’ relationship with the King. Dixon was great at keeping tightly on Azalea’s point of view while also giving enough hints at what was going on with other characters’ motivations, particularly the King’s. It’s always nice to see that kind of care on a craft level.

    One of my favorite things about this book was the friendship/relationship between the sisters. Obviously, the original fairy tale placed some constraints/requirements on how the story could be told, but it was *really* refreshing to see the main female protagonist of a YA/romance story have female friends. I would say that her sisters are the most important relationship in Azalea’s life, and I liked that budding romance didn’t change that. Too often female friendships are secondary (or non-existent) in novels with a romantic slant, or female characters are set in competition with one another, so I really appreciated how lovingly handled those relationships were here.

    Also, can we talk a little bit about how fantastically AWESOME it is that Mr. Keeper is basically the anti-Edward Cullen?! Because he so is. He’s mysterious and jealous and possessive, and the book doesn’t go OOOOH, how ROMANTIC. Instead, it points out, Hey, this is not swoony or healthy behavior. This guy is a blood-drinking CREEP. Also, Azalea mostly saves herself. Which is fantastic.

    The one note that rang a bit false for me… or at least that I thought the book didn’t need, was the misunderstanding between Lord Bradford and Azalea over her identity. I felt it didn’t further the plot and seemed like it was thrown in because the typical romance plot needs contrived obstacles for the hero and heroine getting together, which is a bit frustrating. (I mean, to Bradford’s credit, he doesn’t angst over finding out that Azalea is Azalea, but still.) Also, I was a bit confused as to why he switched from being “Lord Bradford” to “Mr. Bradford” halfway through?

    Finally, I loved the world-building details about how magic works in this universe, particularly Swearing on Silver. There was a neat parallel between how belief/repeated self-binding made certain magics stronger and how fairy tales are created/passed on via collective, continuing communal belief and rehearsal.

    /super-long comment of neverendingness

    • agreyeyedgirl April 18, 2012 at 12:42 am #

      So my only excuse for not replying to this earlier is that most of my computer time has been spent wrestling with computer organization, which is a lame excuse BUT here I am now!

      Basically everything you say here = YES omg. You are so right about everything. I like the way you put it. “Dixon was great at keeping tightly on Azalea’s point of view while also giving enough hints at what was going on with other characters’ motivations, particularly the King’s” that was the thing I was trying to say! I totally fumbled it so I’m glad you caught the ball (yesss I can use sports metaphors without knowing anything about sports!)

      I loved that Azalea’s relationship with her sisters was so strong, too–I’m always happy to see positive family relationships in books, because while strained relationships are good for tension (as we see here with the King) it is possible to get tired of protagonists that are always completely isolated/alienated from a family structure. It’s possible to have struggles and adventures AND also have family relationships! It’s just a different dynamic, and I like different dynamics. And Yes Yes Yes let’s have romantic relationships that don’t separate us from our families! I am definitely a fan of the way that was handled as well.

      I totally didn’t think of the Edward comparison, but you are spot on again and I love it–I was half-waiting (dreading) for the plot to turn love-triangle-y, and I was so pleased when it didn’t! I like that while Azalea buys into Keeper’s story at first, as her relationship with the King improves (and her judgement isn’t so clouded by her anger/general emotions) everything about Keeper starts setting off her warning bells. Yes, trust your instincts about mysterious, magical men! They cannot be trusted!

      I did think that the mistaken identity subplot felt a bit random, but I was streaking through the book at that point, racing for the end, and didn’t stop to think about it. I suppose it was a way of reminding us that, by the way, Azalea’s husband will be king and therefore her marriage will be political and semi-arranged, in case we’d gotten too distracted? Maybe it was to provide a reason for her not to go running to him for help?

      Finally, “There was a neat parallel between how belief/repeated self-binding made certain magics stronger and how fairy tales are created/passed on via collective, continuing communal belief and rehearsal.” yes you are the most brilliant ever. I loved the idea of self-binding/self-creating magic, but I didn’t think about the parallel between fairy tales/communal belief. That’s an excellent observation. I also really loved the idea of the ‘special, fluttery magic’ that Azalea finds in dance and in her love for her family–the idea that this power comes both from relationships and from being immersed in creative expression, that magic comes out of joy. I thought that was wonderful.

  2. Angiegirl April 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

    Holy crap. Charis! That graphic is AWESOME. And you can switch out the cover each month. *clasps hands*

    Embarrassed to say I haven’t commented yet because I haven’t finished the book yet!

    • agreyeyedgirl April 27, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

      Thank you! :D

      Don’t worry, you have time! I think things might stretch into May a bit, because a few people who want to participate haven’t even gotten hold of the book yet, and I’m still figuring this whole thing out (how to encourage talking? how pushy is too pushy when nagging people to participate? this is difficult stuff!) Take your time–when you read it, we’ll be here!

  3. peripatetia April 24, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Apologies for the delay in commenting: I finished the book nearly two weeks ago, but I’ve been out of town in between then and now.

    First things first: LOVE the graphic! Especially that you can change it up for each new book discussion. <3

    Second things second: Another reason it's taken me a while to chime in on the discussion is because, err, I… didn't like the book. Sadface! And I'm always worried that when I say "I did not like this thing that you really like" it'll sound like "I do not like you!", which is absolutely not the case. :-)

    My general view on opinions on books/music/films/whatnot is that for a large part they're completely subjective. I mean, sometimes they're objectively bad, or at least objectively fail to meet some baseline criteria for 'quality' (so for a book it's good if the spelling is correct, and it's helpful if characters don't change name halfway through, for instance). (This depends somewhat on the intention of the author, any good writer can break the rules in order to produce something new and interesting, etc., but as a general rule I think the above holds.)

    But once a book meets those baseline criteria, it's more about the experience of the reader, and whether the story/plot/characters/style/etc. work for them. And in this case, sadly, the book didn't work for me.

    Some of this may be because I was in a less-than-stellar frame of mind when I was reading the book, but the things I didn't like about the book pinged me really hard for some reason.

    I found the alphabetical naming convention a bit cutesy, but I could see why it was included; it would be far too hard to keep track of the different sisters otherwise. Having said that, a couple of the names in particular bugged me. For example, Bramble seemed a bit of a case of nominative determinism – she's a fairly prickly character, and just happens to have be named after a thorny plant? Not to mention being named after, basically, a weed. I couldn't help thinking that Briar/Briar-rose would have been a more apt name; it keeps the sense of prickliness, but at least it's more recognisably a flower name.
    And I know that Dixon needed a flower name that started with K, but Kale seems a bit of an unfortunate name to saddle a girl with. ;-) Ornamental kale is quite pretty, but the immediate association is with a rather bitter vegetable – Kalmia or Kerria (both flowering shrubs) might have worked better. Not as immediately recognisable as flower/plant names, but by the time you'd worked through the other sisters' names, it'd be pretty clear that hers is a flower name too…

    Stylistically, I felt like Dixon didn't really settle on a consistent tone: I'm guessing the setting is meant to be pseudo-19th century and pseudo-British, but some of the characters came across as Georgette Heyer dandies, while others reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse, or sounded like Enid Blyton public schoolgirls. Which is a pretty wide time period to draw on. (Very vaguely on this note, the fact that at one point the girls learn Morris dancing jumped out at me as feeling really off, since Morris dancing is traditionally/historically male-only.)

    The other thing that didn't really gel for me was the characterisation of the king; his actions and attitude towards his daughters (and their dancing) seemed to be more dependent on the needs of the plot than grounded in his personality and character (growth).

    Also, you'd think the girls would learn to not take anything to the ballroom they didn't want to lose/Keeper to take…

    ANYWAY.

    I'm glad other readers enjoyed this book even if I didn't! And there were definitely elements I appreciated, such as the female-heavy cast, strong family relationships, and romance not being the primary focus of the plot.

    Oh, something I've just noticed/realised is that the kingdom must be TINY (don't they talk at one point about some of the characters going to a lecture two kingdoms over, with the implication that you could get there and back in a day?). Which doesn't really change the content of the story in any meaningful way, but does give it a slightly different context.

    • agreyeyedgirl April 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm #

      Re: the kingdom being tiny–I’m sure that is IS tiny, but since I had your comments in mind while I was reading the second half I particularly noticed the bit you mention and I think that either 1) they were intentionally making fun of a person too dumb to realize he was being sent two kingdoms away or 2) the implication was that it was a longer trip and his intention was to catch up. I’m leaning towards the former :P

      Re: not taking things they didn’t want to lose…coming from a large and mildly chaotic household, people lose stuff ALL the time! A magical entity could steal our stuff constantly and we wouldn’t notice because you always assume that someone else moved it or lost it and you don’t remember that you lost it in the magical closet particularly, you might have lost it anywhere.

      Re: Characterization of the king–I was fine with this. I did think his progression was a little odd at first, until I considered that we’re seeing him through Azalea’s biased perspective, and Azalea doesn’t understand him at all. When you think of him as a man surrounded by stressful political situations (presumably, since his ally eventually goes to war) whose wife has been extremely ill for a long time, it’s easier to understand the way that he’s failed to build relationships with his daughters and therefore doesn’t understand them in turn.

      Re: Style–I also didn’t have a problem with this, but maybe I am just used to a lot of genre mixing and period crossovers? I saw the variety of influences, but didn’t feel that they conflicted.

      Re: Alphabetical nameing–I am 100% opposed to alphabetical naming in real families, as a rule. I think that it’s silly and pointless and meh. In my opinion the only worse thing is families who name all their children things that start with the same letter, which I think is phenomenally stupid because then everyone has the same initials! Useless. But I DID appreciate the use of it here, because as you say it helped keep the sisters in order without Dixon having to constantly mention ages and order, etc.

      Re: Liking the book–never feel bad about not liking something and saying so! That’s why we have discussion instead of standing around nodding agreement with each other! You are absolutely right about the objectivity of the book reading experience. There are times when someone dislikes something that I like and they make me feel judged and insulted, but that is all about their tone and not their opinion, really–if you like something and someone says ‘Oh, that was awful’ instead of ‘well, I’m glad you liked it but I didn’t really care for it’, that comes off as pretty rotten :P I’m all for people have different opinions, I’m just against them being really strident and snobby about it, which you are not! so you have my full permission to disagree with me all you want ;)

      I think it sounds like Entwined just didn’t engage you–when I’m engaged in a book things that might potentially get on my nerves bounce right off because I don’t care, or become irrelevant because I’m deep enough in the story to absorb them as part of the landscape without feeling jarred, but since you weren’t engaged everything kind of stuck out and tripped you up. It happens! For instance, I do not love War for the Oaks as much as everyone else seems to love it. Or for that matter books 5, 6, and 7 of Harry Potter, and plenty of other things *shrug*

      Hopefully you’ll like the next book more! I don’t know what will be in the next voting pool yet (although Wee Free Men was the popular runner up this time around, so I might include it in the next vote), but good or bad I hope you’ll share your thoughts!

      Re: the graphic, thanks! :D

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