House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

House of Salt and Sorrows  Book Cover


Goodreads: House of Salt and Sorrows
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2019


Annaleigh lives with her sisters in Highmoor Manor, a house by the sea. Once there were twelve of them, but four of her sisters are already dead, and Annaleigh is beginning to think that is no accident. Each night, she and her sisters sneak out to attend glittering balls. But who–or what–are they really dancing with? Now Annaleigh must place her trust in a mysterious and handsome stranger if she is to break the curse that haunts her family.

Star Divider


House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig is a darkly atmospheric retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Annaleigh and her eleven sisters live in a manor by the sea, but now four of them are dead. At first, the deaths seemed like accidents, but the locals are murmuring of a curse, and Annaleigh is beginning to suspect murder. When another of her sisters begins claiming that she can see and speak with the ghosts of their dead siblings, Annaleigh must discover the truth before someone else gets hurt. House of Salt and Sorrows is a refreshingly original take on an old tale–one that will have readers afraid to go to sleep at night.

“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” has seen its share of retellings, but I am not sure I have yet read one that embraces the horror genre so strongly. Upon reflection, however, horror is the perfect genre for this story. Twelve girls go dancing at night in a mysterious underground world populated by–what? Monsters? Demons? Certainly someone out to get them. Amping up the terror by adding ghosts seemingly intent on revenge simply makes sense. Readers who enjoy creepy tales will not be disappointed by this one.

Admittedly, however, though I enjoyed the scary aspects of the book, I did find that the allure of the unexplained dissipated rather quickly as the book neared its conclusion. Perhaps this is inevitable. The protagonists need to uncover information related to the mystery in order to solve it. But more information means less fascination–once you know what the ghost is, it will never be as frightening. To compensate for this loss, Craig adds a great deal of action and drama. But I would have preferred more atmospheric creepiness to the fast-paced conclusion.

I was also somewhat disappointed by the book’s romance. Annaleigh spends very little time with her love interest, making it difficult to buy into their relationship. She knows next to nothing about him–about what kind of person he is, what values he holds, what future he envisions. As a result, I could not feel very excited about his appearances, nor could I really believe that Annaleigh and he shared some sort of earth-shattering romance that could defy the fates themselves. He was really just kind of…around. Honestly, I can’t even remember his name.

Still, despite a few weaknesses, House of Salt and Sorrows is a satisfying YA fantasy. Fans of fairy tale retellings will likely want to pick it up. It may not be life-changing, but it is solid and enjoyable.

3 Stars

Entwined by Heather Dixon

EntwinedGoodreads: Entwined

Summary: After the death of their mother, Princess Azalea and her eleven sisters find themselves confined to the castle in mourning, forbidden even to visit the gardens.  Their father in his grief begins to ignore them, leaving the girls even more desolate.  When they find a secret passageway to an underground world, they grasp the opportunity to dance there each night, forgetting their troubles.  There in the darkness, however, lurks a man known as the Keeper, who longs for the power to free himself and visit the land above.  The princesses soon realize they have placed themselves in extreme danger, but, unless they can learn to forgive their father and place their trust in him again, everything may be lost.  A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

Review: Heather Dixon places her unique mark on this retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” in a number of ways.  She elaborates on the relationship between the princesses and their father, individualizes each of the princesses and focuses on particular struggles they face, introduces more than one romance, and has the princesses themselves willingly keep the secret of their nightly dances.  Each of these creative decisions helps flesh out the story; the princesses become real people with real problems, instead of working as mere number or unit.  The result is a tender portrait of what it means to be a family.

The father in the story often acts a mere catalyst.  He forbids the princesses to leave the castle, thereby setting into motion a series of events that endangers the girls and possibly the kingdom, then, after advertising for help, disappears.  Dixon’s vision of a king distraught by the death of his wife and distancing himself from his daughters even as he needs their help to move on, rings much more true.  It complicates the relationship between the princesses and their father, and gives them a realistic reason not only to desire to escape from the castle, but also to continue to hide their activities.  Generally the princesses continue to dance only under compulsion; here they find dance a respite from their troubles at home.

Adding to the realism of the story is the unique personality of each of the sisters.  Azalea, the eldest, acts as the leader of the group, feeling it her responsibility to look after the others in place of their mother.  Bramble, the second eldest, scorns ladylike behavior and generally provides humor with her sharp retorts and penchant for trouble.  Clover is quiet and delicate, but harbors unexpected strength.  Each of the princesses is named and characterized as an individual.  They also have a group personality, however, with which any girl with sisters will surely relate.  They look to each other for strength, cling to each other in trouble, and tease each other mercilessly about potential suitors.  Some of them may prove annoying at times, but they always recognize how fortunate they are to have each other.

Dixon goes farther than characterizing each of the twelve, however.  She gives several of them their own storyline, as interesting as that of the eldest—the one, readers will recall, who gets to marry the man who discovers their secret.  In this story, the men who come to learn where the girls wear out their shoes each night receive individual treatment as well.  Several of them appear for comedic effect, but others have their eyes on someone other than Azalea.  Since something inevitably complicates romance, the other girls have their own obstacles to overcome before they, too, can find a happily-ever-after.

The intertwining of these various themes and plotlines creates a beautiful and believable story focused on sisterhood, family, and the nature of love.  Readers will feel as if they truly know the girls and will invest themselves fully in their story, sharing their pain and their laughter.  Dixon’s Entwined is truly magical. 

Published: 2011

If You Like Retellings of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” Then Read….

If You Like, Then Read is a feature where we offer reading suggestions based on books you already like. This is the third week we are running it, and we post it once a month.We’re also trying a new format! If you have more suggestions, let us know in the comments!  

Read all the If You Like, Then Read posts here.

Twelve Dancing Princesses

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

A very original tale featuring a great cast of characters.  Even though this is based on a fairytale, and readers will feel that things must end happily, George manages to build up a lot of suspense and doubt.  If that doesn’t intrigue you, the hero knits.  Fairly well.  A follow-up book, Princess of Glass, focuses on a different one of the twelve sisters and draws its inspiration from “Cinderella.”  Read reviews from both Krysta and me here.

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

Zita is the king’s daughter–his thirteenth daughter–but she works in the castle kitchen as a servant so her father can try to forget she exists, and that her birth caused her mother’s death.  Meanwhile, her twelve sisters live upstairs as royalty.  When those sisters fall ill, Zita takes it upon herself to save them from the curse that is causing their discomfort.  A middle grade retelling that gives readers the comfort of knowing that the good side will win.  Read Krysta’s review here.

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

This retelling combines elements from “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with mythology.  It features a very spunky protagonist and a lot of great world building.  Be forewarned, however, that it is more a teen than a middle grade book.  Many of the princesses are illegitimate children, and there are a couple brief conversations about consummating marriages (nothing graphic, of course).  Very imaginative, and quite open for a sequel.  Read my review here.

The Midnight Dancers by Regina Doman

A contemporary retelling about Rachel Durham, her eleven stepsisters, and their fundamentalist father.  His strictness leaves the girls wishing for a way to escape and have fun, and eventually they find a secret passage leading from their bedroom.  This is the fourth book in the Fairy Tale Novels series, but it essentially functions as a standalone.  Read Krysta’s full review here and an interview with Regina Doman here.

Entwined by Heather Dixon

Azalea, the oldest daughter, is the protagonist of this retelling where all the sisters are named for flowers.  The book starts with the girls mourning the death of their mother the queen, when they first discover a passage the leads to world of the Keeper, who invites them to dance.  Reviews praise Dixon’s care to give each girl distinguishing characteristics (Clearly this is no retelling where some of the sisters are not even named!) and her ability to keep readers enthralled and awed by the magic.  Read Krysta’s review.

The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell

Goodreads: The Princess Curse

Summary: Twelve princesses suffer from a curse where they wake up every morning tired and with their shoes in tatters.  Reveka, the apprentice of the castle’s herbalist, thinks she can find a way to make herself invisible and break the spell, even though everyone else who has tried has disappeared or fallen fast asleep.

ReviewThe Princess Curse is a very original retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” as the character striving to unravel the curse is not a dashing young man, but rather a spunky thirteen-year-old herbalist’s apprentice.  This creative decision leads the focus of the story away from the princesses and onto Reveka, who is clever if not beautiful and fair if not always kind, and onto the prince who cast the curse in the first place.  The effect is that the story reads very much like fantasy, but not always like a fairy tale.  Reveka and Dragos, lord of the Underworld, are too complex to belong in a standard fairy tale, and their motives are often politically and rationally inspired, which is unusual for the genre.  Haskell has not simply expanded or filled in the holes of a well-loved story, but has used the main plot idea to write a book that is a story very much its own.  It will not sound familiar no matter how many retellings the reader has encountered before.

The book’s biggest strength is the imagination behind the plotline. Usually the father of the twelve dancing princesses wants the curse broken because he just loves his daughters so much.  Prince Vasile does love his daughters—but there is also the problem here that if none of them marry and produce an heir soon, the country will be invaded.  And no one will marry them because every man who has tried has disappeared or slipped into an unending sleep.  The entire kingdom has a stake in the fate of the princesses because two rival countries are pushing for war, and the country has already been ravaged by the Turks.  The reader will also discover that the lords of the Underworld have a stake in the fate of the country, too. Continue reading

The Midnight Dancers by Regina Doman

Summary: Rachel Durham and her eleven sisters are tired of all the rules imposed upon them by their father and their church.  The discovery of a secret passage that leads to an enchanted island gives them freedom during the night.  Paul, a young soldier returned from the war, fears, however, that everything on the island is not quite as it seems.  He prays his determination and skill can save twelve girls from danger, but may have to rely on faith alone.  A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

Note: The Midnight Dancers is the fourth Fairy Tale Novel published by Regina Doman.  The first three compose a trilogy, but this one works as a stand-alone.  One the main characters, Paul, does appear as a minor character in the third novel, Waking Rose, but readers need not be familiar with the trilogy to understand and enjoy this book.

Review: Regina Doman has always made an effort to illustrate in the Fairy Tale Novels how the fantastic can reveal the true reality, and she has accomplished that admirably in the first three installments.  The magical collides with the previously mundane, transforming our perception of our lives.  The Midnight Dancers, however, almost makes the other novels seem clunky because it achieves a realism the others do not. Continue reading

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

Summary: A retelling of the classic story “The Twelve Dancing Princesses”

Briana: Retellings of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” are among the most common, and so it is much to George’s credit that she manages both to bring some originality to the subject and, indeed, to pen one of the best of the retellings.  Her version may not be among the “completely turned on its head so one barely recognizes the inspiration” type, but it does more than simply flesh out the already existing outline.  For one, the reader is utterly convinced that the hero soldier may not be able to help the princesses, after all; such is the magnitude and the reality of the danger with which he is faced. Continue reading

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

Summary:  The thirteenth daughter to a king who only wanted a son, Zita works in the kitchen as a servant so her father never has to remember the night she was born—and her mother died.  Her twelve sisters live as royalty upstairs, forbidden to communicate with Zita.  When the twelve princesses mysteriously fall ill, however, only the kitchen girl recognizes an enchantment as the cause.  Aided by a stable boy and a soldier, Zita will risk her life to save her family and prove that love truly can conquer all.  A retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Continue reading