A Branch of Silver, A Branch of Gold by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (2016)
This captivating story is opened by a mysterious narrator, able to observe both the mortal world and the world of Faerie. She tells us that the boundary between the two worlds has been breached; a terrible curse has opened the gates, and so the story begins...
Heloise – feisty, angry, passionate, and the 14-year-old daughter of a peasant flax-farmer is the unlikely heroine of the tale; she's the promised curse-breaker who may or may not succeed in healing the breach between human and faerie. Many have gone before her and failed. Some never to return. Her even more unlikely helpers include her reclusive grandmother, the aristocratic and sickly heir to the lord of the manor, a capricious sylph, and a magical guardian of the world between mortal and faerie. But even with assistance, Heloise faces trials and tests that push her beyond her mortal strength.
And what is this curse that has crossed the divide? Centuries past, a faery princess gave up her immortality to marry a man. Her mother, the fearsome faerie queen, has cursed the bloodline of this union. Every generation a daughter is taken from the mortal world and kept bound in an enchantment where they must dance all night in the court of the queen.
The story is a reworking of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. It is a loose reworking, with some inverted tropes. As with all A E Stengl’s writing, the story is multi-layered; there are powerful themes of life and death, and of what lies beyond death; themes of grief, forgiveness, inner strength, and the power of sacrificial love. The setting is that of feudal France, and the historical details of this medieval world provide a wonderful contrast to the parallel, fantastical world of Faerie.
I've enjoyed everything I've read so far by A E Stengl, and this is my favourite novel of hers to date – definitely one that goes on my To Be Read Again shelf. The story is complete in itself, but has an ending that promises further stories to come in this world. I hope that's the case, because I would love to go back and follow Heloise on more adventures.