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The Midnight Dancers

by Regina Doman

Published 2008

This is the fourth installment of Doman’s “Fairy Tales Retold” series.  While the first three built on each other and should definitely be read in order, The Midnight Dancers is only loosely connected and can easily be read as its own story.

Per usual, Doman does a fantastic job creating a (semi anyway) plausible situation, allowing the familiar story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses (one of my favorite fairy tales, incidentally) to unfold, sans magic.

The story is about a family of twelve daughters.  In a Brady Bunch-like move, Mr. Durham, a widower with six daughters, marries a widow with six daughters of her own (the youngest one in curls).  This mixed family produces a lot of characters to follow, but Doman does a fairly good job giving everyone different enough names, making them much easier to follow.  (For some reason that I can’t understand, authors frequently give characters very similar names, which gets very confusing when there are a lot of different people to follow; The Thirteenth Princess comes immediately to mind.)  She’s also unafraid to have sisters whose stories/opinions are not super important – some of them are basically just names and that’s okay because we don’t really have time to listen to the opinions of all twelve girls.

The story focuses on Rachel, one of the two oldest sisters.  Tired of her conventionally conservative and dull life, Rachel yearns for excitement, adventure, romance – all things that seem completely out of reach.  Instead, she’s stuck spending her days working around the house and around their church family as well.  Her relationship with her dad has deteriorated, and all in all Rachel feels bored, unappreciated, and stifled.

When she and her sisters discover a secret passageway from their bedroom out of the house, Rachel views it as a perfect opportunity to start really living life.

Meanwhile, a few years earlier, Mr. Durham met Paul Fester, who actually saved his life (they were both in the military at the time).  Those who have read Doman’s other books will recognize Paul as one of Rose’s college friends.  Paul happens to be living for the summer near the Durham’s home, and, through a series of events, finds himself trying to help Mr. Durham out by trying to find out what, exactly, his daughters are up to.

Overall, this was a really good book, and I actually really enjoyed it.  However, there were times that I felt like the story spun out of control a bit.  The “bad guys” that Rachel and her sisters meet are a little over-the-top (as an aside, I’m also not sure where Doman gets her information on how people act when they’ve smoked some weed; I really am not confident that it leads to all the evils she sets forth), and seem to rather suddenly go from a kind of sleezy would-be seducer to a potential rapist and murderer, and it all seems a bit much.  In the same vein, Paul seems to take the whole “wait until the girls decide to confess for themselves” line a bit far, as there reaches a point where they’re actually going to be in danger, and he’s still shilly-shallying, waiting for them to realize the errors of their ways and freely confess.

Still, there are some excellent conversations in this book.  Paul is Catholic (as is Doman), while the Durhams are protestants.  While Doman doesn’t go quite so far as to say that the Durhams are wrong, she does manage to portray a very stereotypical “conservative Christian family” that doesn’t sit entirely comfortably with me, especially since it felt as though many of the questions she raised about faith, church, and family, were left unresolved.

I did like the way that she brought Rachel and her dad back together, allowing both to realize that they were wrong; overall, it felt like the Durham family was definitely on its way to becoming stronger and closer at the end of the book.

Overall, a solid read, although a bit overly dramatic at times.  4/5.

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