I’ve been meaning to read this for ages — I love the idea of a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses set in the world of Manhattan during prohibition. It just sounded fascinating: how could it be transformed, how would it play out? The answer is: fairly loosely. That’s not a criticism — I think sticking too rigidly to the story would have killed this book. Instead of sticking to a particular version, it makes its own, with other fairytale elements coming in: the wicked father, the dead mother, the twelve unwanted and unseen daughters, it’s all the stuff of fables. I think the transformation worked really well.
On the level of the characters and plot apart from the retelling — which can sometimes be enjoyable just for its own sake — I loved the way it picks out a few of the girls and makes them distinct, different, disparate people all trapped together. Most of it is limited to Jo’s point of view: she’s the older sister, and she’s used to making sacrifices for the others, and to her sisters regarding her as the unbending ‘General’, rather than a feeling person. This is done really well, especially in the section after they escape: Jo has to learn how to deal with life without having eleven other people to think of, and she doesn’t know what to do — without them relying on her, who is she?
Overall, I enjoyed it a lot; I think the only thing that would’ve made it better was maybe more time with some of the other sisters, even if it was only the more clearly drawn ones like Lou, Doris and Ella. That would have given a different and closer perspective on the girls, been a way to get to know them in other ways. Nonetheless, it makes sense that there wasn’t space for it — and I wouldn’t want this book to get bloated, since I thought it was perfectly paced.