The Restless Girls
160pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99
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. Each girl – Frida, Polina, lorna, Ariosta, Chessa, Bellina, Vita, Mariella, Delilah, Flora, Emelia and the youngest, Agnes – has her own special talents and interests, talents and interests that had been encouraged by their mother but of which King Alberto knew nothing. To him, girls were of little value, useful for getting married and bringing further wealth to his kingdom of Kalia and so as they grew up, he knew nothing about rearing girls and certainly didn’t approve of them being educated – “a girl may as well have been a sunflower or a trumpet”. So deep in grief at his wife’s death and afraid his daughters will suffer a similar fate because their mother had encouraged their independence and freedom, he removes all the things they love – their lessons, their possessions and, most importantly, their freedom. When Princess Frida defies him, as in the traditional tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses from the Brothers Grimm that the story mirrors, the girls are locked in a small room where they spend all their days and nights, except for one hour a day in the garden “to stretch their legs”.
When they find an escape from their cell-like room, sneaking off through a hidden door to a different world 503 steps down underneath the palace, life becomes a bit more bearable but Frida is made aware that there is always a price to pay for such freedom. And, just as in the original, it is the girls’ worn out dancing shoes that give them away and Frida finds she has to use all her intelligence and ingenuity to keep her sisters safe and eventually free them…
This is a modern day version of that old German tale and by expanding on it, describing the settings, giving the girls personalities and emotions, breathing life into characters that are usually one-dimensional, although it is somewhat disappointing that when the pilot arrives to try to solve the mystery of the worn out dancing shoes, that each is struck by his looks at first.
This is a story for independent readers who like a bit of meat in their fairy tales, while setting up the question, “Is freedom free?