Friday, August 19, 2016

The Andari Chronicles Review: Pirouette

 To the lover of fairy tale retellings, Amazon is both a gold mine and a minefield. Self-publishing has made hundreds of new novels about the classic stories available, and nearly every major Western fairy tale has several novels available. Sadly, many of them offer little more than a half-hearted expansion of the fairy tale. I've learned to hope for little more than a generic, vaguely pleasant reading experience. 

The Andari Chronicles by Kenley Davidson might be self-published fairy tale retellings, but they're  far from generic. Indeed, these books aren't only rich and immersive fairy tale retellings, they're some of the best books I've read this year, and I inhaled the series in less than a week.  To keep this from turning into a monster post, I'm going to post about each book in the series individually, in the order that I experienced them.

Though it's the third in the series, I started with Pirouette, which is a version of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", the fairy tale that's my favorite source of retellings. It's a difficult tale to retell competently, and a lot of retellings tend not to go much further than a room full of generic, floofy-dressed fairy tale princesses. Thanks to the polished "prom dress" look of the girl on the cover, I didn't have high expectations for Pirouette, but when I started the first chapter, my expectations were blown away.

"Pirouette" takes place in the Middle-Eastern style kingdom of Caelan. In the prologue, our main character, Ilani, is seven years old and sent to dance for her father, the malek (the king of Caelan). When she reveals a forbidden magical talent, the malek orders that she is never to dance again. Ilani's leg is badly broken, and she grows up alone and outcast, with no hope for a future, since her culture has no place for a woman who cannot dance.
We're then introduced to a much different set of characters, a group of spies from a British-flavored country called Andar, traveling to learn more about Caelan. Lord Kyril Seagrave has a reputation as the court flirt, but as the best friend of the prince, he was placed in charge of this mission, much to the disapproval of Brenna, a fiery lady spy who already hates him for unknown reasons. They're joined by the mysterious, magical Alexei (a man with his own agenda for the mission), and the taciturn bodyguard, Quinn. The latter three all have some experience with diplomatic intrigue, but Kyril feels out of his depth. Instead of serving as leader, he's barely respected, as has to follow the rest of the group in disguise as the soldier and bodyguard to their identities as foreign merchants.

Soon after their arrival at the Caelani palace, scandal erupts, when the malek's twelve daughters (thirteen, actually, but no one counts the crippled Ilani) refuse to dance a traditional dance that will allow their father's heir to choose one of them as a wife. The malek orders that anyone who discovers why the princesses do not dance will be able to marry one of his daughters and choose the fates of the rest. The spies suspect dangerous political plots are the source of this strange contest, and Ilani worries that this contest will only cause her doom. Soon, Ilani and Kyril meet, and navigate a world full of spies and political intrigue and plans within plans within plans as they try to solve the many mysteries of this situation. 

This book has a highly complex plot, a vivid, unique and well-formed world, and vivid, likable characters. It's full of sharp wit and humor and just a touch of romance. It leaves out or vastly alters many of my favorite parts of the original fairy tale, but the ways in which it twists the original story are creative and fun and turn it into a highly original story that's a solid novel independent of the fairy tale backbone. (The solution to the contest is particularly brilliant). The prose has a tendency toward repetition and wordiness, but not enough to detract from the story, and though the plot gets a bit too complex, the resolution tied it all together into a brilliant and extremely satisfying book. I recommend this book as a starting point to the series, because after finishing, I was motivated to immediately pick up the previous two books.

Coming next, a post about Book 1, Traitor's Masque. 

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