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The City Beyond the Glass

(A Fairy Tale Retold #6)

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  61 ratings  ·  31 reviews
In Renaissance Venice, the daughters of nobility must marry - or live and die trapped behind convent walls. Impulsive and adventurous, Gemma Caloprini thanks her stars that she's destined for marriage...until an unwanted betrothal goads her to defy her father and risk her most dangerous secret: the Glass Doge, a sinister nobleman who lives behind the glass of her mirror.

Published April 2nd 2018 by Suzannah Rowntree
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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Mar 13, 2018 marked it as my-books  ·  (Review from the author)
I am SUPER excited to share this story with you on April 2!

This one is a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses for everyone who likes their heroines angry, guilty, and courting disaster.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses is another fairy tale I'm not that fond of which gets great retellings, this one by Rowntree being another example I enjoyed. Set in the Republic of Venice, it tells the story of the three Caloprini sisters, Gemma, Filippa, and Lucia (who stand in for the dozen princesses of the tale), whose rich father despairs of finding a husband for them, to take over and continue his merchant empire.

Rebellious Gemma isn't happy with the prospect of being married off to a man of
Mar 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm not actually a fan of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

That's incredibly ironic, because I can honestly say that some of the best fairy tale retellings I've ever read have been based on this story, and The City Beyond the Glass is no exception.

On the surface, the source fairy tale seems light and frothy (because...dancing, I guess? And princesses?) but more than a cursory glance at the tale reveals that this isn't the case, and it certainly isn't for Rowtntree's story. At first, I was almost a
W.R. Gingell
100% recommend this book for anyone who wants to be emotionally wrung and holding back tears and stuff. I loved it.
The City Beyond The Glass by Suzannah Rowntree was one of my anticipated reads for 2018. After hearing about it being a dark retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princess set during Renaissance Venice, I was immediately expectant! Not to mention how gorgeous and velvety the book cover is.

The concept and plot for Beyond The Glass was pulled off really well, so if you’re looking for a quick read, then I’m sure you will enjoy this retelling immensely! However, for me, the book felt a bit too short, leng
J.M. Stengl
Another amazing fairy-tale retelling in a vivid historical setting, filled with memorable characters, high action, and clever inclusion of the original tale's key plot points. The author did whittle the number of sisters down to three, which makes sense, particularly for a novella, and I appreciated not having to keep track of twelve girls!

Emma is a flawed oldest sister trapped in a home and society that offers her very little in the way of life choices. She has fallen into a diabolical trap lai
Jared Abbott
Jun 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
It's really a crime that Susannah Rowntree is not a more popular author. Like most of her books, The City Beyond the Glass is short and fun, but not shallow. Her heroines are neither chick-lit nitwits nor radical leftist feminists. It's clear she has done her historical homework; her setting in Renaissance Venice is believable and enchanting.
"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is one of my all-time favorite fairy tales, both in its original form and in the forms that authors like Jessica Day George, Heather Dixon, and Lea Doué have given it. So, when I saw that Suzannah Rowntree had written a version set in Renaissance Italy, I was super excited to read it and see what her take on the book would be. Now, having read it, I can't say that it's my favorite retelling of the story— but it's still very good.

Two major themes seem to show up in
Christine Smith
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 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
Heather Hayden
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
What I liked most about this story: the characters feel real and so does the tale. The three sisters are trapped by the Glass Doge, forced to visit his mirror world regularly or risk his wrath. Everything is shown through Gemma's point of view, which is both a stubborn and often flawed one, as she struggles to protect her sisters--and herself--from all the dangers facing them. It's a darker retelling than most The Twelve Dancing Princesses retellings I've read, but I greatly enjoyed it. The sett ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I found it absorbing, wonderfully paced, and very thought-provoking. Nothing disappointed-- the setup, the many reveals, the moral compromise and repentance arcs... I think it will be memorable.

Rarely have I found characters sketched so compellingly in such a short story as are Gemma, Lucia, and the Doge. As rarely have I found a short story so worth re-reading, the second read yielding richer depths. It's a story worth chewing slowly, but too engrossing to do it.
Christina Baehr
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Exciting, layered, superbly researched historical fantasy. As always with Rowntree, there are some profound themes woven in, but they are woven in so expertly, it's like looking at an arresting and brilliant tapestry - you aren't tracing the warp and weft, but rather you are gripped by the dynamic picture the threads are coming together to create.

I first became aware of the tragedy of Venetian upper-class monachisation (trapping young women in convents against their ill) from Donna Jo Napoli's Y
Anna Mussmann
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
In this tightly-paced fantasy novella inspired by the merciless social rules of upper-class Renaissance Venice (where forced consignment to a convent was the fate of over half the female population), a strong-willed young woman takes a significant risk in hopes of controlling her own fate. Her action triggers a series of events that send her world spinning out of control. As she struggles to protect those she loves, she is forced into an understanding of the sacrifice that lies at the heart of t ...more
Suzannah Rowntree has an incredible knack for taking a story you know and making it into something new and exciting while still leaving the story’s essence intact. The plot is tight and keeps you on the edge of your seat (I may or may not have stayed up into the wee hours of the morning just to finish this book).
Something I really appreciate about Rowntree’s novellas is the depth of character she manages to fit into one hundred-something pages. In many novellas I struggle to connect with the ma
Raquel Evans
Twelve Dancing Princesses meets Phantom of the Opera equals 'stayed up too late to finish the story'. The story had a good flow that kept pulling me in, but I really liked that even while you totally understand why Gemma makes the terrible choices she does, the story never quite lets you think it's for the best.

There are a few passing references to prostitutes, and other, heavily veiled references, to sexual situations, including non-consensual. I found some creepiness in the general situation a
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This intriguing tale translates the story of the dancing princesses to Renaissance Venice and begins with the predicament of daughters facing life in a convent because of the rules surrounding marriage and inheritance. Magical elements are woven with a strong sense of time and place and two strong protagonists create sparks as they spar with one another. The themes of freedom and self sacrifice are explored along the route to a satisfying resolution.
R.J. Amos
Apr 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved the fairytale The Twelve Dancing Princesses as a child and this retelling was a joy to read. I read it in two sittings, totally absorbed in the dilemma Gemma found herself in, and not really sure until just beforehand how and whether she would escape.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Solid. I enjoyed the setting and learning a bit about the workings of medieval Venice while I was being entertained. I also thought the story was a very clever allegory for the problem of evil, what happens when we try to get out of it on our own, and the real, only way to be free of it.
I thought this was an excellent retelling. I loved the rich setting, the characters, and the plot. Of course, I wish it was longer, but I thought for its length it was extremely well-paced. I will leave you with this warning: once you start this book, you’ll not be able to put it down. Give yourself some time after you finish it to recover and think over what you’ve just read.

Full review:
Annie Twitchell
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
4.5 stars.

Overall this book reminded me of a 92% caoco bar. Dark, bittersweet, and rich.

The very end left me confused and uncertain what was happening. But everything else was wonderfully balanced. The climax was... oh. Perfection. I think I cried. I wanted to hug everyone. Except the Doge. I wanted to punch him repeatedly.

I'm not sure when I've been as formlessly angry with a book character as I was with the Doge. I couldn't find anything to grasp to be angry at! His whole character is like
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think it's usually a little bit difficult to root for the sisters in Twelve Dancing Princesses re-tellings. After all, their actions aren't exactly lovable. Though she never had my full support, I understood the horrible position in which the main character, Gemma, found herself. The story was so well-written that I kept reading, not really wanting her to fail, not really wanting her to succeed. The ending was just right and very satisfying.

The world-building in this book was exceptional. It w
THE GOOD CRACK. Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my favorite tales, but something about it is lacking - and then this comes in and fills up every last gap with something new, complex, twisted, and beautiful.

I think fairytales often underestimate their girls, and Gemma is an utterly fantastic antidote to the trend - she's strong, but lost in her own ideals to the point that she nearly loses herself, in multiple ways. Similar to Gemma from A Great and Terrible Beauty, honestly. But with more of
Hannah Hill
Nov 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gripping, complex and beautifully told

This book kept me up way past my bedtime. And I would like to congratulate Suzannah for creating a situation in which all the heroine's actions made things progressively worse - but without any better choices being obvious. Truly a difficult thing to accomplish and rare in a market saturated with cheap storytelling. There's nothing cheap about this story. It's beautifully told, meticulous in historical detail without being heavy, and full of complex characte
A very nice retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

The pacing is good as is the beautiful flowing writing style, the plot engaging and the storyline compelling enough to find out how the story unfolds.

I also really liked the world building though there’s no basis or explanation for the magic/fantasy elements.

The characters are not complex and are just sufficient to drive the story forward.

But despite the flaws, this is an enjoyable, quick, easy, light read much like a dessert after a main m
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A well-written and intriguing glimpse into a portion of world history with which I am not personally familiar. After reading this, I may have to look into it. Like all the other work I'm read from Rowntree, this story was easy to fall into and made me think. Her characters were not flawless and facing the discomfort of this was a revelation for some of my own issues and a dash of hope that they don't need to be permanent.
All in all, an enjoyable read. I'll be looking into her other books.
Cela Day
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite Rowntree retellings so far! I think this is because I'm a Rosamund Hodge fan (Crimson Bound is my favorite), and this story definitely had what I'd call a Hodge vibe: Darkness, guilt, denial, suffering, and the stakes are very real... Yet, ultimately, there is some hope of redemption - for some. Loved it.
Linda Lassman
Jan 08, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a re-telling of the 12 Dancing Princesses, which was one of my favourite fairy tales. I really liked the setting and the premise was quite intriguing, but I found that, ultimately, it wasn't as satisfying for me as more traditional tellings.
Apr 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An intriguing one-day read with enough twists to refresh the standard plot. I read an ARC and this voluntary review is my own opinion.
Gwyneth Cage
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Wow what a total bitch
Lisa Whitehead
Dec 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it, well worth a read. Would have been even better if it ended with more. Can’t say more, don’t want to spoil it!
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Hi! I live in a big house in rural Australia with my awesome parents and siblings, writing historical fantasy fiction. You can visit me online at

​If you like the mythic fantasy of Stephen Lawhead, S. A. Chakraborty or Naomi Novik, you'll probably like my stories too!

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