Mr. Puss-Boots dreams a story like this, a story where a prince goes creeping down into the underworld after twelve dancing princesses because some king decided the girls were having too much fun and wanted to rub their faces in how hard he owns them.
Like several of her previous books and short-stories, Catherynne Valente’s latest book (well, novella) is loosely based on a fairytale, in this case The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Very loosely based. In fact, without a couple of brief asides by the narrator and the actual description from the book cover, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to connect this with the original fairytale.
Set in the fantastical hotel Artemisia in the middle of New York at the high point of the Roaring Twenties, Speak Easy is filled with Valente’s usual luscious descriptions and a cast of thousands (dozens, anyway), each with their own story. So many stories in fact, that the book could have been stretched out for at least a few hundred more pages. As is, there’s not enough room to give most of the characters more than a brief mention; the results are tantalizing, but also a little cluttered.