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DWG reads Entwined, part 2

2 May

This post is a full week later than I intended it to be! Life is like that, sometimes. But to make up for it I have some links for you! in addition to my further thoughts about Entwined.

Heather Dixon, the author of Entwined, is also an artist! And her art is awesome! You can see it on her blog, Story Monster, including this illustration for Entwined:

She also created three coloring pages featuring Princesses Azalea, Bramble, and Clover, which you can find here!

And, AND, she made Princess Azalea paper dolls that you can download! Paper dolls, guys! In case you didn’t know, I really really love paper dolls.

She even made Howl’s Moving Castle art. With a moving castle. I mean. Awesome.

And getting back to the subject of this month’s book discussion of Entwined, here is a post over at the Greenwillow Books blog in which Heather Dixon talks about her book! She touches on some of the elements of Entwined that are different from the familiar version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, such as the princesses being in mourning, and the royal household being poor.

My first post about Entwined only touched briefly on a few of the things about the book that I liked, and didn’t dig into the book itself very much, but now I’ve finished re-reading Entwined (and read the first four chapters a third time, because I was reading them out loud to my friend while we drove to the Renaissance faire. Because we know how to have fun)and a few of you have commented on the discussion with your own thoughts. By the way, thank you for participating! It makes me happy, you have no idea. And your comments have been interesting and great and I will totally be referencing them in this post as I discuss the second half of the book.

Before I get going, though, some housekeeping: I know of several people who are still waiting to get their hands on Entwined, or who haven’t quite finished it yet, so I’m going to extend discussion until May 15th. In the meantime I’ll open up the vote for the next discussion book, so give everyone more time to find and read it before the next round of discussion begins in May. If you have any recommendations for books that you’d like to discuss, please mention them in the comments!

And now, Charis has more thoughts about Entwined: Note — this post contains spoilers for the second half of the book!

In my last post I didn’t even mention someone with a huge presence in the book, someone at the very center of the plot, and that of course is the mysterious and sinister Keeper. As Sharon pointed out in her comments (one of the reasons it’s awesome to be friends with Sharon is that she’s brilliant, and it’s easy to reflect the glow of intelligence—all you have to do is wait for Sharon to say something and then nod sagely, saying ‘Yes, of course, I agree completely’), in some ways Keeper is the ‘anti-Edward Cullen’, a physically attractive, seductive, mysterious figure with a tendency to be controlling, possessive, and manipulative, but in this case instead of being a romantic figure Keeper is dangerous and insane. Which I think is how things should be. It’s not a secret that I’m not a fan of Twilight, and definitely not a fan of the type of romantic relationship it portrays (and absolutely not a fan of the prevalence of that kind of relationship in YA lit), so I was glad to see a book flouting that particular trope.

On the subject of tropes, another romantic trope that I really do not enjoy is the love triangle. I really dislike love triangles. Show me a book with a love triangle at the center of the plot and I will show you how many other things I have to read instead, unless you give me a really compelling reason to do otherwise (like The Hunger Games). When Dixon introduced two potential love interests—the mysterious Keeper and the adorable Lord Bradford—I winced and braced myself for the inevitable triangle…and it never happened. Dixon totally subverted that trope instead, which I really liked. Even though Keeper seemed at first to be a possible romantic interest for Azalea (or one of her sisters, I suppose) she was savvy enough to pay attention to the warning bells that Keeper’s behavior set off and back away from his influence as much as possible. Score for Princess Azalea.

Another common theme in romantic stories is one or both of the parties choosing their beloved object over their family, or neglecting their family in favor of the beloved object (or B.O. ;), and I thought it was lovely to see a book in which the romantic relationship stayed secondary to the family relationships—sure, Azalea is all giddy over Bradford (who can blame her he sounds so adorable), but her focus continues to remain on her family.

Anna and Sharon both mentioned being confused that Lord Bradford becomes Mr. Bradford, which made me go ‘eh? Did that happen? I don’t remember noticing’, so I watched for it while I was re-reading and it switches because he asks Azalea to call him Mr. Bradford instead of Lord Bradford, indicating that they’re on slightly more familiar terms, although when you’re zipping through a book it’s easy not to absorb. Much more confusing to me, when I stopped to think about it during my re-read, was the age gap between Prime-Minister Fairweller and Princess Clover. I mean, he’s a young Prime Minister, but surely we can assume he’s at least 25. And Clover turns 15 in the course of the book. I don’t know how your eyebrows responded, but when I worked this out mine shot straight up into my hairline. I don’t object to large age gaps in couples who are older—the difference between 25 and 35 seems pretty negligible to me, but the difference between 15 and 25 is enormous and a little awkward.

One of my friends commented in her Goodreads review of Entwined that while she enjoyed it she was troubled by the amount of patriarchal thinking that kind of permeates the setting, and I thought it was an interesting observation and I wanted to bring it up. She was particularly troubled by the fact that Azalea was unwilling to propose to Lord Bradford, despite the fact that she outranked him, and in that I agree with her. I don’t love Azalea’s unwillingness to do the proposing because, while I can understand her apparent lack of interest in politics because her focus is extremely narrow and politics don’t really fit into the scope of the story being told, I do find it hard to believe that she would shy away from a royal responsibility like observing the rules of her status. It just seems rather silly and unnecessary. It can kind of be justified because Azalea doesn’t find it romantic to do the proposing, but that didn’t come across perfectly in my opinion.

Overall I thought that while yes, there’s definitely a strong thread of patriarchy in the book, it isn’t arbitrary and it’s appropriate to the time period that the book is loosely based on, and it is offset by female characters being strong and active and independent (although without completely rebelling against the rules of society. The sisters rebel by dancing, but not out of a desire to overthrow the system, rather as a coping mechanism for their grief).  In many ways Entwined is a very domestic story—it’s limited to Azalea’s view point, and she’s both confined from the world because of mourning, and her focus is on the more immediate problems of her family. And this doesn’t bother me—not every book needs to be a statement about women overthrowing the patriarchy, and if Dixon had tried to cover that angle I think she would have been writing a very different book, and some of the things that I like most about Entwined might have been sacrificed to make room for the new plot. But at the same time that Dixon lets the patriarchal system stand she also shows how strong women can be—Azalea may not be interested in challenging the political system, but she’s not afraid to throw punches to protect her family.

So I feel that really the issue is balanced, except for this one scene striking an odd note.

What do you think, readers? Are you satisfied with the book as it is, or would you have been more satisfied by the princesses being shown to be more active politically in some way? Do you think that Entwined subverted tropes, or that it played into them?

…..Are you busy playing with your new paper dolls? Yeah, I thought so ;)

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!

DWG Reads in April — Entwined!

1 Apr

 

We have a winner! The very first Domestic Goddess Reads book is…..

*drumroll*

Entwined by Heather Dixon

“Confined to their dreary castle while mourning their mother’s death, Princess Azalea and her 11 sisters join The Keeper, who is trapped in a magic passageway, in a nightly dance that soon becomes nightmarish.” (summary via Goodreads)

On Wednesday, April 11 I’ll post here with some of my thoughts about the book, which may include spoilers, so be aware! if you haven’t finished reading yet you may want to hold off on visiting. That’s when the official discussion will kick off, so in the meantime I hope that you go to your local libraries and bookstores and pick up Entwined (or be a slacker like me and have it magically appear on your ereader of choice) so that you’ll be ready to share your thoughts and reactions.

Thank you to everyone who voted! I’m really looking forward to discussing Entwined with all of you!