I first came across Jessie Burton in my book group when The Miniaturist was chosen as our book to read just after it was published. The success of this, her first novel, speaks for itself – a number one bestseller, translated into 38 languages and adapted into a television drama; it’s an amazing read. I was therefore hugely excited when I heard that she had written her first children’s books which will be published by Bloomsbury on 27th September.
I was instantly drawn to the idea of this story, having read The Twelve Dancing Princesses by the Brothers Grimm as a young girl. A modern take on this classic story was instantly appealing – especially on reading a quote from the blurb: “We’re not sticks of dynamite,” said Frida. “We’re simply excellent girls.” What a brilliant statement! The book is illustrated by Angela Barrett, who is widely regarded as one of the UK’s finest illustrators. I read a proof copy, so haven’t seen the fully illustrated version but the glimpses of the artwork I have seen are beautiful.
The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton
For her twelve daughters, Queen Laurelia’s death in a motor car accident is a disaster beyond losing a mother. Their father, King Alberto, cannot bear the idea of the princesses ever being in danger and decides his daughters must be kept safe at all costs. Those costs include their lessons, their possessions and, most importantly, their freedom. But the eldest, Princess Frida, will not bend to his will without a fight and she still has one possession her father can’t take: the power of her imagination. And so, with little but wits and ingenuity to rely on, Frida and her sisters begin their fight to be allowed to live.
The twelve princesses of Kalia are stricken with grief, as their world falls apart after their mother’s death. Instead of finding comfort in their father, King Alberto, they find a man broken by grief unwilling to listen to their voices. Princess Frida can see the King’s grief is damaging the kingdom and she challenges her father, to no avail. Imprisoned in the palace in a room with no windows, no sunlight and none of their precious possessions, with only a portrait of their late mother to look at, the twelve sisters see no escape.
Late one night they discover a marvellous secret – a hidden door that leads them on the most magical journey of discovery through wondrous caves, over a deep lagoon, through forests and finally into a tree palace. Surrounded by exotic animals including a magnificent lioness, the princesses can hardly believe their eyes. That night they find their faith is restored and from then on they can become brave and fearless again, feeling alive, dancing each night away in their secret wonderland. It is only when their father keeps having to replace their shoes that he suspects something and uses all his cleverness to outwit his daughters. Princess Frida refuses to reveal their secret and driven mad with rage the King banishes her, proclaiming that whosoever can find the truth about his daughters will replace him as King!
I don’t want to spoil the story so I can only assure you it is a marvellous and fitting ending! I read this in one sitting, positively hooked on the fabulous fairytale world created. The Restless Girls is a wonderful reminder of the power of imagination to restore hope, full of character and brilliant observation throughout. Whilst the feisty and fierce Princess Frida may take centre stage, each princess has her own unique qualities and personality that shines through. They are after all just girls, as well as being princesses, which is brilliantly illustrated by a sparkling narrative full of love, wit and wisdom. The Restless Girls is absolutely one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read this year; enough fairytale nostalgia to warm the heart, but with a modern edge that brings the tale right up to date. This is a really wonderful story to encourage all who read it to speak up for themselves, cherish their siblings and not allow anything or anyone to hold them back!
With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me this book to review!