Zita works as a servant in the kitchen of the King. But unlike the other servants, she is actually a Princess, the thirteenth daughter of the King, who was banished from the life of her sisters when she was a mere babe in arms.
From the cook, she hears the story, that her father loved her mother, Queen Amara, but an endless series of daughters born when he so wanted a son and heir made him cold and distant to his children as more and more were born female and not male. When Zita's birth ended her mother's life, he blamed the child and banished her to a life among the servants rather than being a princess like her sisters.
But Zita's life among the servants is not a bad one. When her sisters are introduced to young Princes, they go completely silent, unable to speak. Zita has no problem talking to men at all, even if they aren't Princes, and especially with Breckin, the freckled servant boy who works in the stables, as they become fast friends after he gets over not believing that she is a Princess.
She also has a relationship with her sisters, although she must hide it from her father and the other servants. She could be forbidden from seeing them entirely, but she isn't. She has also learned to bake in hopes of making her father like her- he smiled once when he liked her baking, and she hopes that if she pleases him like that again, he will smile at her again.
She and Breckin discover a secret in the woods. After the birth of Zita's eldest sister, Aurelia, the King banished all the witches from the Kingdom, hoping to prevent any curses on the young Princesses. But one witch remains, a kindly older woman who hides her cottage under an illusion of being run down and abandoned. Babette befriends Zita and Breckin, and teaches Zita the magic of being open-minded, able to see and to hide herself by imagining herself as something else- a tree, a bush, a rock, which Zita uses to get closer to her family and see how much easier her father acts around her sisters than around her.
But, abruptly, her sisters become tired and listless, their bodies drained of energy. No matter how much they rest during the day, they cannot seem to summon the energy to eat or do anything else. Zita believes that something unnatural has befallen her sisters. Maybe even something... magical. But can she do anything to free her sisters from the curse or spell that has befallen them, without anything to help but Breckin, his brother Milek, a former soldier, and the advice of Babette? Because if she can't save her sisters, nothing will be able to!
This book is based on the Fairy Tale "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", only here, there are actually thirteen Princesses. Zita is a servant, but unlike a servant, she isn't badly mistreated or starved. And if she isn't treated as well as her sisters, at least she is able to talk to men and not have to have lessons on deportment, and she is closer to a normal person than any of her sisters.
But even though she's been ignored by her father, Zita is strong in other ways, and her strength is what saves her sisters. It's her ability with magic, her courage in the face of adversity, and even her father's sacrifice that end with the saving of the kingdom and the happiness of her and her sisters.
I liked this book. While some of Zita's story is quite frankly, magical, the love and bravery exhibited by Zita is something that all girls can aspire to, even if her magic isn't. Highly recommended.