CW: death of a parent, death of a sibling, grief drugging, some gore, general horror themes
I will be 100% honest with you. I didn’t expect to love this book.
Seriously. I requested it because the cover caught my eye and the synopsis sounded pretty good. That’s what happened. It’s a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, which isn’t the most horrifying fairytale out there.
But Craig took that starting point and elevated it to something that blew me away.
One thing I noticed when I started this book, there was no character list and no reviews pointed out all the characters. I actually had to start it over, get a piece of paper out, and draw myself out a genogram to see what the hell was going on and who all these people were.
Annaleigh is our main character. She’s the sixth daughter out of twelve. And bad things are happening at her home. Her mother died after giving birth to her last daughter, Verity (who is also one of the Graces, but give me a moment to get there). Her father remarried, Morella, who has now announced that she’s pregnant.
But it doesn’t stop there. The book opens with the funeral of one of Annaleigh’s older sisters, Eulalie. This isn’t her first sister who died either. So far, her older sisters Ava, Octavia, and Elizabeth have also died, along with Eulalie and their mother. The siblings that are left are: Camille (older than Annaleigh); Annaleigh; the triplets Rosalie, Lenore, and Ligeoa; and the Graces (called that because they’re close in age and don’t really remember their mother) Honor, Mercy, and Verity.
See why I needed a family tree and I had to start it over? There are tons of names and connections and I really had to concentrate.
A major theme of this book is grief. Having just lost my sister about two months ago when I dove into this book, it was palpable. I could understand and distinctly feel the sorrow that Annaleigh experienced. Her grief was on a different level with her mother and four sisters dying in mysterious ways, plus starting to believe that someone is out there killing them.
In this world, her father is a duke and rules this certain island. The island is a bit different. The oldest child, no matter what gender they are, inherits the dukedom. The island is a major setting for this story because it all revolves around the sea and their religion heavily comes from that, too.
I loved the setting. I loved the world. It was so much fun to immerse myself into it and watch as the story slowly expanded it. The plot itself wasn’t too predictable, which was shocking. As I said, Craig took a very plain story and elevated it. She brought in mystery and horror and some romance and religion and ugh. It was so good.
As I said, there is romance. I was kinda meh about it — I didn’t think it was needed, but at least I liked Cassius, the love interest. For a bit, I thought it would be a love triangle between Cassius, the mysterious arrival, and Fisher, a childhood friend. I’m glad that it didn’t develop into that. I would have been very disappointed.
More about the plot, though. It starts off dark and it progressively gets darker. Hell, I thought it was getting Grimm Brothers dark and maybe even darker than that. The ending had my eyes wide and I could picture it in my head. It was very gruesome. Sure, the ending is happy, but God did it get really dark right before that.
All in all, this book was amazing. I didn’t know what to expect from it and I set my bar very low for that reason, but it took me by surprise. Erin Craig is an author I’m going to keep my eye on. I can see her taking YA by storm.
Have you read this?
Is it on your TBR?
What’s your favorite retelling?