This post contains possible spoilers. Nothing too specific, but still...
I've always been a sucker for fairies and such. And I love the premise of WILDWOOD DANCING: midnight dances, an enchanted glade, a fairy queen, and a magic portal. What's not to love? Plus, the book came highly recommended, so I opened it with eager anticipation....
...but, sadly, it didn't measure up. Not because of the story. It was the characters. The main character, to be specific. Jena is set up as an unconventional, educated, independent, action-oriented girl. She kept a watchful eye on her sisters while they were in Dancing Glade, ready to whisk them away should trouble arise. She helped her father manage the family's merchant business. She attended educational sessions from the local priest, even though society frowned upon women learning things like history and mathematics. In general, she was considered the sensible sister that all the other sisters turned to when a decision needed to be made.
And yet, when it really matters, she did two things that lost her all respect in my eyes. 1) She lets Cezar walk all over her. 2) She does nothing when her sister, Tati, stops eating, which ultimately brings her to the brink of death.
Cezar's character is very clear from the first time we see him. Stubborn, selfish, sexist, and power hungry, his first serious offense is to walk off with the Jena's family's funds, stating that she's incapable of managing them. She takes offense, but does nothing to stop him. But I can excuse that since it was the first instance. Then, Cezar moves into her house, takes over her father's bedroom, and claims her father's desk as his own. She does nothing to stop him. As far as I could tell, she didn't even try. At the very least, she could have made excuses for him to be lodged in guest quarters - she lives in a castle, so there's got to be guest quarters.
Cezar's worse offense was to put Jena and her sisters under house arrest. When he does this, she threatens to go to the authorities and his mother, but Cezar says he's already got them on his side. Does she investigate for herself? No. She takes his word for it, and does not attempt to go to the village. But soon after, she sneaks out of the house and goes to the forest. So, why didn't she continue on to the village? If she's really going to defy Cezar, as she threatens time and time again, then she needs to stop at nothing until she's returning with the cavalry. Even if she never finds the cavalry and everything blows up in her face, I still would have respected her for trying. And felt sympathy for the consequences thereof.
The only way Jena ever stands up to Cezar is with words. Words are great, but they need to be backed up with action. And it's Jena's lack of action that lost her respect in my eyes. It's not until the end of the book that she actually does something to defy Cezar, but by then, for me at least, it was too late.
Tati's story bothered me in a few ways. I didn't like the implication that it's okay to die if you can't be with the one you love. That scares me on many levels... Then there's also the sisterly bond between Tati and Jena. They seemed close in the beginning, then Tati starts to pull away. Jena does nothing to stop this - never corners her sister and demands to know why Tati is so infatuated, or why she's being so ridiculous by not eating. If Jena is as sensible as she's been set up to be, I think she would have done this. Then, when Tati stops eating all together, I would think both sisterly love and the fear of losing her would push Jena to take action. I mean, if Tati is so weak she can barely sit up, then she's hardly strong enough to protest someone pouring broth down her throat. But it turns out to be another situation where Jena only uses words and not action.
If Jena's character had been stronger and truly action-oriented, I would have loved this book. And I wanted so much to love it. I really did. I'm heartbroken that I didn't.