~~Moved from GR: 9/290 left!~~
by Juliet Marillier
Wildwood Dancing may be, externally, a fairytale retelling, but on a deeper level, it is a commentary on feminism and the role of women. Jena, the main character, is strong and perceptive, but trapped and stifled by her role as a young girl, forced into dependence by the men around her. My feelings about the book are as mixed and torn as Jena is between her roles of subservience and strength.
The antagonist of the story, Cezar, is actually pretty standard fare for fairytales and romance stories: domineering, controlling, passionate, and angry. Yet although Cezar mouths all of the proper Heathcliffe remarks, despite his "passion" or "love", Jena continues to note how he is driven to stifle and control Jena. Marillier does an absolutely stellar job in capturing the myriad ways in which he seeks to dominate her, including noting each time he physically invades her space--taking her arm, brushing her shoulder, even leaning into her so that their legs touch; for example,
"I could feel the imprint of his hand on my waist, like a brand of ownership."
But this is still a fairytale, so we still have the ridiculously young heroines (ages 15 and 16, no less) seeking and finding their "true loves." We still have women obsessing over dressing and dances and parties and planning to effectively sell themselves as property. We still have "true love" as so important and significant that it makes one girl become detached and withdrawn and starve herself--and apparently that's OK, because it's the prerogative of one in the throes of True Love. I felt, when reading it, like a bemused Elinor watching the starstruck Marianne in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. At the same time, I think Marillier's descriptions are rather beautiful:
“So you do believe in... true love?" she whispered.
I took a deep breath. "I think I have to," I said, blinking back tears. "Without it, we're all going nowhere.”
The themes of the novel, too, are "love and loyalty, truth and trust," not mindless passion, and the story itself was as delicate and pure as a wildflower blooming in the woods. Even the character names--from Sorrow to Florica to Cezar-- added an additional layer of meaning to the simple sentences.
Overall, I found the story enjoyable, and I loved Jena's strength and sense. The story is a fantastic YA novel, a beautiful blend of fairy tales with themes that are both relevant and articulately delivered.