The lesson I learned from this book: Twelve dancing princesses is about ten too many for any serious character development.
This book is nice. It's pleasant. If you've never heard the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the plot could be interesting. If you have heard it, this book has nothing new to say to you. It's just the fairy tale, extended and fleshed out. I'd love to see what it could have been in different hands, say those of Donna Jo Napoli.
The hero is a sweet boy who knits. The heroine is a domestic type (for a princess) who babysits her bevy of little sisters. I can see the two of them setting up a pleasant little cottage in the country and kicking out several children. Ruling the country? Not so much. The book lost me for several chapters when the heroine, sitting on the edge of a fountain and gazing at her reflection, is startled by a footstep, falls into the fountain, and catches pneumonia. That's par for the course for Princess Rose, though. While she's too nice to dislike, she doesn't do anything but pine, worry, and wait to be rescued. The hero comes along and works out how to save the princesses in a matter of weeks. Rose has had years to figure out how to break the curse, but she hasn't even tried. It would take someone who just adores traditional romance to feel support for this doormat heroine.
The romance is incredibly bashful and a bit far-fetched. No one seems very concerned that the new undergardener is sending the Crown Princess bouquets and hand-knitted shawls, just as no one apparently worried too much when the next-eldest princess fell in love with an enlisted man. Meanwhile, their father thinks he can still marry these girls off to some prince from Spania or Andalouise. Even with this lax parental oversight, the hero and heroine are just too shy and giggly to admit their love until the very end. No heaving bosoms here, folks, unless Princess Rose has to cough: her pneumonia lasts for most of the book.
The author creates the names of the book's imaginary countries by rearranging a few letters in the names of real places. I felt this approach called attention to the utter lack of world-building. The story is set in your garden-variety fairy tale universe: a highly sanitized and enlightened version of pre-industrial Germany.
For all its flaws, though, the book isn't a painful read. It should be marketed to a younger audience, though, as it's awfully dull for the teen set.
Recommend to: Age 10-12, girls, fans of Gail Carson Levine or E.D. Baker