Princess of the Silver Woods by Jessica Day George
Target Audience: YA/Teen
Summary: When Petunia, the youngest of King Gregor's twelve dancing daughters, is invited to visit an elderly friend in the neighboring country of Westfalin, she welcomes the change of scenery. But in order to reach Westfalin, Petunia must pass through a forest where strange two-legged wolves are rumored to exist. Wolves intent on redistributing the wealth of the noble citizens who have entered their territory. But the bandit-wolves prove more rakishly handsome than truly dangerous, and it's not until Petunia reaches her destination that she realizes the kindly grandmother she has been summoned to visit is really an enemy bent on restoring an age-old curse.
Type of Adaptation: Retelling in combination with the legend of Robin Hood
So, I’m facing some significant challenges summarizing this one for you, not because it’s not good, and not because it’s not Little Red Riding Hood, and not because the LRRH narrative doesn’t extend fully throughout the novel. No, all those things are true. But Princess of the Silver Woods written by the object of my literary adoration, Jessica Day George, is the final book in the Princesses of Westfalin trilogy, the final sequel to Princess of the Midnight Ball and Princess of Glass, which means that while it tells LRRH and tells it fully, the plot that LRRH arranges to is very much the final plot of a trilogy.
In other words, this book is more concluding the story of PotMB and PoG than it is being a Little Red Riding Hood narrative.
But I’m gonna do the best I can, and I’m gonna try not to stray too far from what is LRRH.
So! Our Little Red character is Petunia, also known as the youngest sister from PotMB, and one of the things I really like about the way this is set up is that, in PotMB, Petunia was six, so she couldn’t really fulfill the role of the kickass youngest princess in The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but now, it’s ten years later, and Petunia is grown and a person with opinions and she’s kind of a badass.
As the story starts, she is traveling through the woods near the border of Westfalin in a carriage when they are set upon by the “Wolves” of Westfalin – a band of thieves living in the forest, stealing from the rich who pass by while wearing masks like wolves to protect their identities. In other words, enter Robin Hood, whose name in this case is Oliver.
But Petunia is no fainting damsel, and after all the trouble she and her sisters have had, she carries a pistol and she knows how to use it, so she points it in Oliver’s face and basically says, “yeah, no. How about you leave us alone?” And that in combination with the coach driver slapping the reigns on the horses and taking off through the forest gets them free of the Wolves and back on course to visit the old Grand Duchess Petunia met in Russaka during the Great Inter-Country Marriage Swap of three years before.
Oliver watches her go, impressed in spite of himself, because Petunia is tiny and really doesn’t look like much, but she didn’t hesitate to pull a pistol on him and threaten to use it. He doesn’t know who she is at this point, but he’s pretty captivated by her.
Unfortunately for Petunia, the mad dash through the forest damaged the carriage and one of the horses, and they’re still too far from the Duchess’s estate to try and walk there, and night is coming. The guards accompanying them will stand watch against the Wolves, but when Petunia heads toward the trees to relieve herself, Oliver manages to capture her and abduct her, taking her back to the cottage estate in the woods where, it turns out, he lives with his mother and brother and band of men he’s responsible for.
And his mother, one Lady Emily, recognizes Petunia immediately, for she looks just like her mother, and Lady Emily was one of Queen Maude’s ladies in waiting. This is when Oliver starts to realize just how much trouble he might be in.
Oliver, it turns out, is supposed to be an earl, but the war saw his earldom split into pieces and given to the losing country, and the estate that should have been his is the one Petunia was on her way to. Petunia learns all this and feels awful, and promises to talk to her father about it, presuming Oliver will let her become un-kidnaped.
Which he does. In fact, he sees her safely to the estate, though he himself almost gets caught by Prince Grigori (the Grand Duchess’s grandson) and his hunters, who have been charged with trying to find the Wolves and bring them to justice. They repeatedly fail. But having to run for safety puts Oliver in a position to observe Petunia in the Grand Duchess’s home, and he comes quickly to the conclusion that she is not entirely safe there.
And this is where we leave the LRRH narrative behind for a bit. So we’ve got our Little Red here in Petunia, a girl journeying through a forest to see her grandmother, or grandmother equivalent. She wears a red cloak, made over from one of Rose’s gowns from long ago, and on her journey, she encounters a wolf who forces her off the path, but eventually, she makes it to her grandmother’s, a place where she is not entirely safe.
The LRRH narrative doesn’t come back until much later in the novel, and what I really appreciate about what Jessica Day George has done is that she’s layered two tellings of this story on top of one another. You have the one summarized above, set in the real world, where Oliver is the Wolf and Prince Grigori and his men are the hunters who “save” Petunia from the Wolf. And then, near the novel’s end, we have the one set in the Land Under Stone (which Petunia and her sisters are forced to return to).
In this half of the story, Petunia is traveling through another forest, this one the silver forest that grew from her mother’s cross so many years ago. Here the wolf she seeks to escape is Prince Kestilan, the youngest son of the King Under Stone, who was to be Petunia’s betrothed, and the reason she strays from the path is because if she ventures into the trees of blessed silver, Kestilan cannot follow her.
And again, she ends up at a cottage in the wood, and the grandmother figure is in the cottage, and is still the Grand Duchess. But when Petunia sees her here, she recognizes her for who she is, noting her green eyes and the shape of her face, identifying her as one who bore a half-human son to the King Under Stone. In this half of the LRRH story, the “wolf” who attacks her is Grigori, who wants to force her to stay, to use her as leverage against the King, and the hunter who rescues her is Oliver.
I love how these two layered versions play with our perception of the story, and I love how the roles of the wolf and the hunter are swapped, and how you can play with the LRRH imagery to layer a third series of events into it: falling into the Land Under Stone being equated with being swallowed by the wolf, and the combined efforts of the hunters – in this case, the magicians and husbands and Oliver – being what releases both our Little Red and all her sisters from the belly of the beast. It’s very impressively done, and I may be reading too much into it, but it’s Jessica Day George, so probably not.
And that’s as much as I’m going to summarize, really, except to wrap up our Robin Hood portion and assure you that Oliver got his earldom back, and he and Petunia were set to live pretty happily ever after.
Make Little Red less of an idiot? Hells to the yes. What I have loved about these princesses from the beginning is that they are not meek and simpering. Each one of them knows how to shoot a pistol, they constantly fight against their curse, and they are as responsible for rescuing themselves as anyone else is, and Petunia is no exception. She is smart, and she figures things out, and she fights against being seen as the “baby” of the family, and it’s lovely.
Develop the world? Yes, and like Marissa Meyer before her, Jessica Day George has also managed to work this new story into the brilliant and fully developed world she created two books ago.
Give me a point? Without a doubt. The reason for telling the story was obvious and inherent, and it was all done so brilliantly.