The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell (Published by HarperCollins, September 6, 2011)
This creative and original retelling of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is set in Sylvania, a fictional region of Romania, in the fifteenth century. Thirteen-year-old Reveka has recently arrived at Castle Sylvian, where she is an apprentice to the castle's herbalist. Because her mother died when she was a baby and her father was a soldier, Reveka grew up in a convent until her father retired from the army, and it was there that she was first trained in herbalism. Unlike most girls, Reveka hopes never to marry and would prefer to become the herbalist for a convent, but she is not wealthy enough to obtain such a position.
For several years now, the twelve princesses of Sylvania have been cursed. Their dancing shoes are worn out every morning, but no one knows where they go at night. Anyone who stays with them at night to try to find out is cursed with a sleep that no one has woken from. Their father, Prince Vasile, is desperate to break the curse so his daughters can leave the castle to marry, because he has no sons and needs a grandson to be his heir. So he has offered a reward - if a man solves the mystery, he can marry one of the princesses, and if a woman solves the mystery, she will receive a dowry. Reveka knows she could use that dowry to join a convent as an herbalist, so she decides to investigate, and discovers a far more complicated msytery than she ever expected, leaving her with difficult choices.
I love fairy tale retellings, and The Princess Curse is now among my favorites in the genre. It's a wonderful mix of fairy tale, mythology, and historical fantasy, and Reveka is a delightful and entertaining narrator. I also loved the unusual setting of Medieval Romania, which really came to life. The Princess Curse is an enchanting debut novel by Merrie Haskell, and I look forward to reading her future books - in particular, I'd love to read a sequel to this book, because while it has a satisfying conclusion, I'd definitely love to read more of Reveka's adventures.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by publisher.