Monday, April 9, 2018

{Book Review} The City Beyond the Glass by Suzannah Rowntree

As a daughter of nobility in Renaissance Venice, Gemma Caloprini must marry - or die behind convent walls. When an unwanted betrothal goads her to defy her father, she risks her most dangerous secret: the Glass Doge, a sinister nobleman living behind the glass of her mirror.

Now Gemma faces a brutal dilemma. If the suitors competing for her youngest sister's hand discover her secret, she'll be locked in a convent. If the Inquisitors find out, she'll burn as a witch. And if she can't pay her debt to the Glass Doge, she'll lose her soul forever.

THE CITY BEYOND THE GLASS is a dark and spellbinding YA retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.




Wow! What a unique, heart-pounding fairytale retelling. I’m still reeling from this story and don’t know if I’ll ever recover.

As a 40k novella, you may pick this up expecting a fluffy, quicky romance story well…HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Just make sure you have your seatbelt on. You’re gonna need it!

This is a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling which, if you didn’t know, is one of my most faaaavorite fairytales. But not only that, this story involves magical MIRRORS. Which is also one of my favoritest things. Why I’m obsessed with magical mirrors in stories I DON’T KNOW. There’s just so much fun to be had with them! So when I discovered this was based off one of my favorite fairytales AND the plot was centered around a world behind a mirror, I WAS SOLD. And let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.


The City Beyond the Glass is such a unique take on the Twelve Dancing Princesses story! The way Suzannah Rowntree weaved so very many elements from the original fairytale while still making this her own utterly original tale was brilliant.

This is both historical fiction and fantasy—set during the Renaissance age in Venice (how cool is that???), but where a few myths and dark magic come into play.

Narrated in first person, we are told the story through Gemma’s point-of-view, a young woman who is imprisoned in her own home and seeks freedom for her and her sisters more than anything. But she soon learns “freedom” is not actually free, and her desperation and impulsive behavior brings a terrible price on her head, as well as her two sisters.

In good ol’ fashioned Twelve Dancing Princesses style, the story is based around the girls disappearing each night and wearing out their dancing slippers in the process. But where they go is a dangerous secret, and their short-tempered father has had enough of their secrets, causing him to put forth a reward to any man who can figure out where the girls vanish to.

Though this is the base of the story, that’s where the similarities to the original fairytale end. The depth, complexity, thrills, and chills of this plot blew me away!


There are three sisters instead of twelve in this story, which, honestly, was kinda nice. Trying to keep up with twelve sisters in the span of only 40k would be a biiiit overwhelming, I think. Having just three was perfect. The sisterly dynamics were really fun to read about. In fact, all the character dynamics really popped off the page. Every single character was so human and alive.

Gemma: As mentioned, Gemma is our protagonist, the eldest sister, and point-of-view character. Sadly I…wasn’t really wild about her. She kind of frustrated me to no end. It was hard being inside her head the whole time because she was kinda…rotten. She’s selfish, impulsive, rebellious, and fiery. And makes many, MANY mistakes. BUT—and this is a big but—I absolutely understand why she was the way she was. Because see, THE WHOLE PLOT probably wouldn’t have worked if she had had a different personality. So, honestly, I’m not sure I can say her rather irritating character is a negative or not. It was necessary. AND she had a very interesting character arc which I’m ALLLL for. Gimme ALL the character arcs. So yeah, she made me want to get a brick and knock some sense into her head for basically…the entire story. Buuuut her behavior moved the plot along, and she was so very, very human. Any one of us could have made the same mistakes she did. She was a brilliantly written character. I just…got really, really frustrated with her and it made it hard to be in her head the whole time.

Filippa and Lucia: Gemma wasn’t my favorite, but I LOVED her younger sisters. Filippa, the middle child, is the levelheaded one of the three, and keeps the other two a little reigned in, which is a good thing (they need it)! While Lucia is the picture of meekness and innocence. I wish Filippa had been in the story more. Her role wasn’t major, and thus we didn’t see her a whole lot, but I enjoyed it when she was there. Lucia plays a slightly larger part, and I was very happy about because she is SO precious. I adored that sweet girl! She was the breath of fresh air to Gemma’s hotheadedness.

Gonzaga: This man played a verrrrry intriguing role and just…wow. I really can’t say much because #SPOILERS but…yeah. He made the book so interesting!

The Glass Doge: The Glass Doge is the man behind the mirror (and he gave me serious Phantom of the Opera vibes which is a plus in my book!) whose intentions are a bit of a mystery. Is he frightening? Is he charismatic? Does he want the best for people or not? WHO CAN KNOW? He’s both chilling and alluring and added a whole ‘nother layer of epicness to the tale.

There were other characters as well, like the girls’ father (who I also wanted to throw a brick at) and some side characters who each had important parts to play. Every single one served an important purpose and, as I said, was so human. They were all different and real. This author has some serious talent when it comes to character creation!


- IT’S A TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES RETELLING. I mean…obviously that’s a huge plus.

- THE SETTING & RICH HISTORY. As I said, this is set in Renaissance Venice and aaaaahhhhhh!!! You couldn’t ask for a more gorgeous setting. I just soaked up all the glitz and glam of the Venice life. (Except it wasn’t really that glamorous for most…heh. BUT STILL.) And it was so full of history, without once bogging the reader down with historical facts. Each thing was woven perfectly into the story. You can tell this author knows her stuff! The setting felt like a character on its own. This was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the story.

- INTENSE, DARK, & HIGH STAKES. Good gracious me alive. THIS PLOT. It is a thrill of a ride. I honest to goodness was tensed up almost the whole way through. This story did not coddle its characters or readers. It’s a nail-biter and heart-pounder. I honestly didn’t know what the outcome was gonna be. The stakes were so, so, so high. I was terrified for the characters. And I loved every second of it. Gimme all the thrills! The way this story pulls you along and makes you more and more nervous with every turn of the page was pure brilliance. No fluff here!

- PLOT TWISTS. Oooh, the plot twists. DAT ENDING DO. *collapses* Again, this plot is INTENSE. And also complex. Which is my faaaave. I was soaking up every bit of it.

- SNAPPY DIALOGUE. The dialogue was one of my favorite bits of this story. It was so sharp and punchy! Again, this author knows how to bring her characters to life, and that shows more than ever through the dialogue.

-THE MIRROR AND MAGIC. I…really shouldn’t say much because I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I adored how the mirror and magic of this world came into play. It was such a fascinating idea, and mixing it with historic Venice made it even more engrossing. Venice seems like a place where there really would be secret worlds and magic.

- THE POWERFUL THEMES. The beauty of this story is that it made me examine myself, without ever once preaching to me. The themes and messages were woven so deeply into the plot, they utterly captured me without me even realizing what had happened. Now that is what a story should do. I never felt preached to or like some Important Message was being shoved down my throat. No, this story tells its tale in such a deep and powerful and beautiful way, it will naturally root its morals and values inside you and stick with you far after you’ve made it to the end. Exactly what you want in a fairytale!


- COULD HAVE BEEN LONGER. I think this is probably just a me thing, but I felt like the story was a little rushed. Now, it worked, because it strung the reader along for a wild ride without ever pausing for any boring parts. But it almost seemed too fast. A few pauses for breath wouldn’t have been a terrible thing. Eheh. There were some scenes that felt…condensed. Like there should have been more to them. We’re also dropped slap dab in the middle of the tale, which was all right, because it added a bit of a mystery as we learn the girls’ secret. At the same time though, I kiiinda wish the story started at the beginning of their adventures. I felt like I was missing out on something. Buuut, again, this is more a me thing. I’m partial to longer books and even love me some ginormous series, so I don’t think this will bother everyone. Most people will  probably enjoy the quick pace.

- GEMMA WAS HARD TO DEAL WITH. I pretty much already covered this, but I wanted to put it here because, honestly, if I had liked the protagonist more, this may have ranked as one of my favorite reads. But, as it was, being inside the head of someone who infuriated me on every page docked a star for me. Which I feel bad about because, again, her personality was necessary and so brilliantly written and served the powerful message of the story and made it all the more meaningful. I don’t think she should or could have been written any differently. She just…wasn’t very likable.

Those are really the only negative things I have to say about this story. And they’re simply personal opinions, nothing against the book in any form or fashion. THIS WAS JUST SUCH A GOOD STORY, GUYS.


Reputation is the most important thing for the people of Venice in those days, and it plays a key factor in the story. The girls are accused of having their, erm, innocence soiled and reputations ruined. And there are a few other scenes implying some men’s sensual desires and the mention of a harlot or two. It is all very delicately handled, but do be aware it’s there.

Also, I’ll repeat, this is a dark and intense book! There’s not really any gore (that I can remember…?), but whew! You’re going to be biting your nails to stubs with this one.

Otherwise, this was a very clean book. No language or anything of that nature. And, like I said, beautiful messages woven through it. But because of the darkness and the subject matter I mentioned above, I’d probably recommend it to ages 15 or 16+?



For a novella, this packs in a LOT of feels. Sometimes I felt like I was holding my breath while reading it.

If you’re looking for a lighthearted, lovey-dovey fairytale retelling, this one isn’t for you. But if you want a deep, dark, intense story with characters who leap off the pages, a historically rich and ritzy setting, a shiver-worthy antagonist, a complex plot that keeps you reeling, and a powerful message which will stay with you far after you’ve closed the book, GO BUY THE CITY BEYOND THE GLASS.



Have you read The City Beyond the Glass? If not, are you going to go get it now? (Because you shoooould.) Who else totally loves Twelve Dancing Princesses retellings??? And who enjoys dark, intense stories? (I’m all for ‘em! Though I don’t mind a touch of fluff in my literary diet as well. Gotta stay balanced after all.)

NOTE: I received a free ebook copy from the author in exchange for a honest review.


  1. After reading and enjoying her debut novel,'Pendragon's Heir', I now want to read everything that Suzannah Rowntree has published! The City Beyond Glass is going on my TBR list!
    I've only read one Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling: A Branch of Silver, A Branch of Gold. It was fantastic, both epic and bittersweet- and yes, rather dark and intense.

    1. I have heard that one is amazing, but have yet to read it. I NEED TO. This was my first Suzannah Rowntree story, and now I'm hooked! I think you will loooove this one!

      OH. I have been meaning to read that one since it released! Anne Elisabeth Stengl is one of my faaavorite authors. SO YES. I MUST READ IT. If you're looking for more 12DP retellings (after you read this one of course *wink, wink*), Entwined by Heather Dixon is my FAVORITE. Not just my favorite 12DP retelling, but my favorite fairy retelling PERIOD.

  2. I have a Suzannah Rowntree book in my pile to read (I can't remember which one, for shame, Julian!) but now I might just push it a title or two more to the front... This one sounds really, really good! I'm verrrrry slowly getting into fairy-tale retellings. It's not a genre I've done much reading in, but so far, the books I've read in it have been great!

    1. This was my first of hers to ever read, but now I need moooore! It was so good!

      OH MY GOODNESS. Fairytale retellings is basically my FAVORITE genre. If you're ever looking for suggestions I'd be happy to provide! :D

  3. I haven't read this book before, and I'm a little ashamed to admit that I've never heard of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. O-O It looks very intriguing, though!
    If you like stories set in Venice, you NEED to read Stravaganza; City of Masks by Mary Hoffman. It's amazing. It set in Venice, but there's a big twist to it. I think it's a book that you'd enjoy.

    1. That's okay! It's hard to keep up with ALL the old fairytales. There's like...thousands, so yeah. You are fine! It's just a really fun fairytale! ^_^

      Ooooh! I don't think I've ever heard of that but YES NOW I NEED IT. I just looked it up and whooooa. IT SOUNDS AMAZING. It involves TIME TRAVEL? My favorite! Thank you for the recommendation! :D

    2. There are SOOOO many!
      You definitely need tooooooooo!!!!!!!! It's awesome! You're welcome!!!

  4. Ooo, a Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling, I need it!
    Lovely review!

    1. I think you'd love it! It's so dark and twisty and fun!
      Thanks, Skye! ^_^

  5. I wondered if there was some POTO vibes from the description - I see that I was correct! Awesome review, Christine!


    1. There totally is! I have no idea if it was intentional or not, but either way I loved it!

      Awww, thanks! So happy you enjoyed it! <3

  6. TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES YAAAAS! I was so curious what you'd think of this one, so I loved getting to see your thoughts! EXCELLENT REVIEW, AS ALWAYS. <3 Heheh, it can definitely be hard to be in the head of a not-so-likeable character. XD Anyway, I'm even more intrigued about this one now! I will definitely have to pick up a copy to read when I have time! :D I've read... *thinks* one other story by this author--a 1920s retelling set in New Zealand--and it was fascinating! She's one of those authors I keep collecting her books and hope to devour a whole bunch of them when I get to it... because they all sound SO SCRUMPTIOUS. I can't wait to read this one. :D Thanks for sharing!

    1. YESSSSS! Give us ALL the 12DP stories! :D

      D'awwww! Very happy you enjoyed reading my (many rambly, eheh) thoughts! If you ever get a chance to read this one we must discuss it!

      This is my first story to read by her, but now I realize I must read her others! She's got a wonderful style and AWESOME storytelling skills. But, um, a 1920s retelling set in New Zealand? :O I NEED DAT! More proof I need to read all her stories! I love your idea of collecting all her books and then devouring them. That sounds delightful! :D

  7. PENDRAGON'S HEIR is excellent! It's only 405 pages (in paperback), so it's more of a commitment than a novella, but it is so good. (You probably know how much I like it from my blog.) She's really good at intertwining characters and themes.

    I would buy it if it were in print format. I'm thinking I might buy it and print it out to keep in a three-ring binder, the way I did my ARC of Ten Thousand Thorns, but only one copy so as to not violate copyright, but also to not have to put up with it being an e-book.

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Definitely check out her other stories. She changes her style to suit the varied genres of each of them, but in the ones I've read at least (so far just PH and TTT) her skill is consistently good.

    1. YES! I SO NEED TO READ IT! I've been wanting to for a while, but then seeing you praise it on your blog has made me want to read it even MORE!

      Huh. I have never considered printing out ebooks (I mean, yeah, not illegally of course XD). I ALWAYS prefer reading things in print, buuuut sometimes those free ebooks are just too tempting. XD

      Oh yes, I absolutely need to read more of her stuff! I can tell she has a lovely style and some serious writing skills!

  8. Why has everyone except me done a 12 Dancing Princesses retelling? I must do something about this. XD

    This book sounds amazing!! I haven't sampled Suzannah's work yet, but I'm definitely going to add this one to my TBR.

    1. OH. KYLE. I'd looove to see a 12DP story in the Beaumont and Beasley series. I bet you would come up with something so original and fun! I NEED THIS.

      I think you'd really like it! It's definitely dark and serious, but so, sooo good. This was my first of her stories, but now I'm absolutely wanting to read more! :D

  9. This sounds so good! I love fantasy stories that are in some other setting than the medieval/castles and princesses setting, especially if it's done well!

    1. Then you'd looove this one! It had such a rich setting. I absolutely loved it!

  10. Iiiiiinteresting! I haven’t read many Twelve Dancing Princesses retellings. Love that this one takes place in Rennaisance Venice! And magic mirrors—yay! ^_^ Great review, Christine!

    1. Very!!! I really, really enjoyed this one. I think you'd like it! It was such an intense, unique take on the fairytale. I was soaking up every word! (And yes, magic mirrors! :D)

      Thanks, girl! Glad you enjoyed it. <3


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