Thank you to Edelweiss for the review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Winterspell is a retelling of The Nutcracker, but with a much darker tone. I’ve seen The Nutcracker a couple times, but it’s not a story that stuck with me. If you’re in the same boat, don’t worry: you don’t need to know the story in order to follow this book.
Our protagonist, Clara Stole, is the daughter of 1920s New York mayor John Stole. There’s a vague governing body known as Concordia, “led” by a drunken John Stole. But, really, it’s the manipulative Patricia Plum and skeevy-beyond-all-reason Dr. Victor who call the shots.
Since her mother’s murder, Clara has had to step up as the leader of her household, as her father is too sick with grief to be of much help. She looks after her sister Felicity, wards off advances from Dr. Victor, and chastises herself for not being stronger, bolder, braver–like her late-mother, Hope.
Her only solace is the time spent with her godfather, Drosselmeyer, who is often disheveled and scattered, working in his shop filled with curious trinkets and toys. He’s told her stories of magic since she was a young girl. The odd items in his shop have always fascinated her, especially a life-like metal statue she’s been drawn to all her life.
But, most notably, Drosselmeyer teaches Clara how to fight. They spar, with fists and with words–though the latter always comes from a place of love and mutual respect. She learns how to pick locks, and to sneak around like a shadow. She keeps daggers hidden in the heels of her boots.
On Christmas Eve there’s a grand celebration, as there is every year, at the Stole household. Wealthy families and Concordia members are in attendance. There’s a huge, beautifully decorated Christmas tree, the children are playing and waiting as they always do, for Drosselmeyer to arrive with a sack of gifts.
Clara just wants to get the evening over with, worried she won’t be able to keep Dr. Victor’s hands off her for much longer, caught in Concordia’s web of corruption to the point of complacency for the sake of her father and his reputation, and her younger sister’s well being.
The festivities are interrupted by an attack at the mansion. When Drosselmeyer turns some of the toys from his shop into skittering metal creatures that obey his whims, other toys grow to life-side proportions, a rat-like beasts come pouring in through the windows, and her familiar statue-friend turns into a man, Clara suspects the stories her godfather told her of magic were more than just stories after all.
John Stole is kidnapped and is pulled through a Door to another world, and, with her statue Nicolas in tow, the two jump into the portal and into the world of Cane to save her father.
This is where Legrand’s vivid imagination takes over, and fills in the “holes” in the mostly-familiar The Nutcracker story. Cane is a dark world ruled by the evil faery queen, Anise. Faeries rule here, and humans have been banished to the slums, or are treated as slaves. Magic in this world is tied to metal (think of the Iron Fey series by Julie Kagawa). Faeries and steampunk. Fey-punk?
Intriguing set up, no? I loved the concept, I loved the dark feel of it, and I was impressed with the dynamic Legrand crafted between Anise and Clara.
Despite having so much working in this book’s favor, I had a hard time connecting with both the story and the characters. A couple reviews have mentioned the uneven pace, which might have been a factor, too, but I mainly had an issue with too much telling when it came to the character’s emotional state. I always knew how Clara was feeling, but it was because I was told, rather than feeling it for myself, so I was removed from her and the urgency of her quest.
Which is a shame, really, because just as often, I would come across passages and turns of phrase that were absolutely gorgeous and vivid. I think a little more depth into the characters would have made this a much fuller experience.
I have yet to read Legrand’s MG books, but I will definitely check them out.
I would recommend Winterspell to fans of fairytale retellings, fantasy and steampunk. It’s quite an enjoyable read.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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