The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
Gail Carson Levine here creates a fairy tale of her own and gives it a characteristic grrrl-power twist. Twelve-year-old Addie admires her older sister Meryl, who aspires to rid the kingdom of Bamarre of gryphons, specters, and ogres. Addie, on the other hand, is fearful even of spiders and depends on Meryl for courage and protection. Waving her sword Bloodbiter, the older girl declaims in the garden from the heroic epic of Drualt to a thrilled audience of Addie, their governess, and the young sorcerer Rhys. But when Meryl falls ill with the dreaded Gray Death, Addie must gather her courage and set off alone on a quest to find the cure and save her beloved sister. Addie takes the seven-league boots and magic spyglass left to her by her mother and the enchanted tablecloth and cloak given to her by Rhys--along with a shy declaration of his love. She prevails in encounters with tricky specters (spiders too) and outwits a wickedly personable dragon in adventures touched with romance and a bittersweet ending. Young fans of princess stories will gobble this one up.
This is a very good book. The funny thing is, it started out as 'The Twelve Dancing Princesses', though does not resemble it. In her book 'Writing Magic', Gail Carson Levine shows some beginnings before she got the actual story. One is:
'Fable has multiplied us. Perhaps the hall of mirrors we dance in is to blame. Instead of twenty-for, we were only six. Three princesses. Three princes. There was always one soldier. Fable did not multiply him. Fable couldn't, not such a one as he.'
Another is: 'I am Bella, the princesses nanny, and this is the princesses tale. I know some of it because I was there. The rest I pieced together afterward.' There is actually a Bella in the printed novel.
This is a wonderful story. Lovers of 'Ella Enchanted' should read it, if they already have not.