Bay has nothing to show for her years of military service but the clothes on her back, a bad leg, and a sardonic imp in a bottle who's more harm than help. When she hears an open call for bodyguards for the twelve headstrong princesses, she thinks the job could reverse her fortunes. Unfortunately, her new charges are under a nightly curse, and everyone seems determined to keep the details a mystery--including its victims.
Luckily, Bay has a trick up her sleeve. Her imp owes her three wishes, and is desperate to grant them. She's been hoarding his magic for an emergency, but it might be time to cash in: according to a fine-print clause in her contract, if she cannot solve the princesses' curse in three nights, she'll be executed the following dawn.
THE LAIR OF THE TWELVE PRINCESSES, being a re-imagined version of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is one of those rare short stories in which you are like 'My god I need more'. Not because the story itself was missing anything--it really really wasn't--but because you want more time with the characters.
In the afterword Davis explains how she submitted this (in various forms) to various anthologies one of which was Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress anthology series. One assumes that she submitted after Bradley passed away and the anthology went on to be maintained by Elizabeth Waters (etc all), but honestly this story reminded me so strongly of those anthologies growing up. They were my lifeblood--its how I fell in love with Tarma and Kethry, and Margaret Ball and dozens of others. And the twists this story takes would have fit in perfectly.
The basic story is this--King has 12 daughters who each night inexplicably wear through their shoes. Countless folk have tried to figure out the mystery of how they leave their locked from the outside room. In comes a down on their luck soldier who offers to figure out the mystery. Usually this soldier is in possession of several magical artifacts (or gains possession of them) and usually they use their cleverness and guile to find out what's going on before their head is on the chopping block. The Fae are often involved, or at least magic of some kind. Depending on the variation the soldier either marries the oldest daughter or the youngest daughter and all is happy in the land once more.
Davis takes this story, twists it until it breaks then made some very interesting choices in fixing that break.
Bay is an ex-soldier for His Majesty's army with a pension dwindling fast and little enough options to fall back on. Her one saving grace is her smart mouthed, sly imp who owes her three wishes and is in a great hurry for her to spend them so that he can be free of her (or so he continually says). Intially the story plays out like you'd expect--King is harried, Princesses are often gone at night, Princes have died endlessly because of this.
What changes is when Bay finds out about the Princesses' night time romp abouts. Davis is quick to be like 'Oh so you thought you understood eh?' and then slaps you in the face with a round of pay better attention to the subtle clues.
I really enjoyed this twist around. I liked that at no point did Bay succumb to the easy way out and have her imp solve the problem. That she makes it a point to tell him that all the details he seems to irritated by are what life is about. I like that she uses her wits and her battlefield expertise to build a trap. And I like that her ultimate goal in life does include retiring somewhere comfortable, but also somewhere far far away from the turmoil of battle.
I want more of her life. I want to know how she met the imp and how she spends her wishes and if he is as eager to leave her side as he claims. I want to see the repercussions of the solution she has and if it affects her in unseen ways.
For the Kindle edition, Davis also includes her first foray into re-imagining the tale with decidedly...gruesome results. Very highly recommended or anyone who digs Female Soldiers or redone fairy tales. Seriously. Go buy it.