This book was really good and really cute. It retells part of the 12 dancing princesses, part of beauty and the beast and part of the Hades and Persephone myth. I really liked it.
Reveka is the main heroine who is 13 years old and is an herbalist apprentice in the castle where the 12 dancing princesses live. She was an orphan who lost her mother and her father was a solider. Reveka was raised by nuns in an abbey in Transylvania for more than half of her life. The abbess there disliked Reveka and told her father that she was a great liar. It was here, in the abbey, that Reveka began to learn about herbs by being an apprentice to the nun herbalist. When her father retired from being a solider he came to get Reveka, as traveled around with her, while he worked as a gardener. They finally came to the castle in Sylvania where Reveka became an herbalist apprentice and her fatehr became the gardener for the castle. By the time Reveka and her father got the castle, the curse of the princesses had been going on for 6 years. There was a long standing reward for anyone who could break the curse. This part of the book is part of the retelling of the 12 dancing princess with some variation. The person holding the princesses to their oath to dance is a "zmeu", a dragon that can shape shift into a human. This zmeu called Dragos, ruled a part of the underworld and needed a bride. Then comes Reveka, saving the day by offering herself to be the zemu's bride to save her father and the people of Slyvania. This is where the story changes to part beauty and the beast and part Hades and Persephone's myth. To fully become queen of that part of the underworld, Reveka has to eat the food of the underworld.
I really liked Reveka. She was brave, sarcastic, determined, caring, and sympathetic. She did whatever she had to do and does the right thing when it truly matters. She saved her father, the princesses and the kingdom without thinking about what will happen to her. At first she is determined to break the curse for the reward money because she has a dream of owning her own herbary. Later on as she sees the sleeping dead people who tried to break the curse, breaking the curse herself became less about the money and more about helping those sleeping people and the kingdom, who at anytime could be at war with the Hungarians or the Turks. She is brave in the face of Dragos and freely agrees to become his wife. She is honorable and she is determined to keep her promise to Dragos, no matter what. And no matter what, Reveka did come to love Dragos and his little slice of the underworld.
I also liked Dragos too. While he was a nasty looking zmeu, that didn't define him. He was a caring person and a caring ruler who genuinely cared for his realm and the welfare of it and the soul there. He needed a bride because his land was dying and a Queen was needed to make it better and heal it. He was honorable in the way that he did not kidnap a bride like Hades did. Instead he made an offer with the princesses. He explained how he really had no choices in finding a bride that he had to resort to the bargain he made with the princesses. He is gentle with Reveka and he does come to care for her. He is not happy about taking her away from her father and her life (she is only 13) but he wants to do what he has to for his realm. He is lonely and compassionate. Reveka figures out that Dragos was a real prince once and that he is not a true zmeu, but he is cursed.
I didn't like the princesses except for Otalia, who was nice to Reveka. The rest of the princesses were snotty. They didn't seem to care about the people they put in the death sleep when they tried to break the curse. I also didn't really like Reveka's father too much until the end. For much of the story he was kinda mean to Reveka and he let the abbess poison him against Reveka, believing that she was some horrible liar. He constantly scolded her and told her to say away from the curse. I just feel like since he wasn't around to raise her for more than half of her life because he wouldn't stop being a solider, he didn't really have a right to be so hard on her. I did like the speech he made to Dragos, when he went to try to save Reveka though:
"A threat to the world will move you?" Pa asked, furrowing his brow. "I can threaten the world. I could brush aside the names of Vlad and Attila, and rain down hell on this earth if it meant freeing my daughter, I could make the Battle of Poirenari look like a Christmas feast. I could tear open the throat of Corvinus's country and leave his blood for the Turks to drink. I could slash the flank of the Turkish Empire and lure in the Polish and let them fight until Doomsday. I've always been a man who fought to create peace, but I could become a man who fights to create chaos. Tell me, Prince Frumous, is that what it would take?"
I liked the ending because it left room for the author to continue the story with another book or to leave it as a standalone, although I wouldn't mind a second book because there was a lot of unanswered questions about Dragos and his underworld. Any way I recommend this book to everyone.
This review is also posted on Spantalian's Book Reviews