Author: Claire Legrand
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: September 30th 2014
Buy at: BookDepository
Darkly romantic and entirely enchanting, this reimagining of The Nutcracker from Claire Legrand brims with magic, love, and intrigue. New York Times bestselling author Marissa Meyer (Cinder) says “this is not your grandmother’s Nutcracker tale.”
After her mother is brutally murdered, seventeen-year-old Clara Stole is determined to find out what happened to her. Her father, a powerful man with little integrity, is a notorious New York City gang lord in the syndicate-turned-empire called Concordia. And he isn’t much help.
But there is something even darker than Concordia’s corruption brewing under the surface of the city, something full of vengeance and magic, like the stories Clara’s godfather used to tell her when she was a little girl. Then her father is abducted and her little sister’s life is threatened, and Clara accidentally frees Nicholas from a statue that has been his prison for years. Nicholas is the rightful prince of Cane, a wintry kingdom that exists beyond the city Clara has known her whole life.
When Nicholas and Clara journey together to Cane to retrieve her father, Clara encounters Anise, the queen of the faeries, who has ousted the royal family in favor of her own totalitarian, anti-human regime. Clara finds that this new world is not as foreign as she feared, but time is running out for her family, and there is only so much magic can do…
Ever since I heard of Winterspell a couple of months ago that I wanted to read it. Immediately. But as every book reader knows, it’s rarely so simple, and I was resigned to wait until the book came out. After all, I had no guarantee that an ARC would be up on NetGalley, and, since I do not live in the US or the UK, it would be difficult to request one. There are always giveaways, of course, but those aren’t always international and it’s not a foolproof method (if there is one). Imagine my surprise when I found out it was available on Edelweiss. I set up an account, requested the book, waited, and danced when I got it. You see, I’m a sucker for retellings, and I had never heard of one of the Nutcracker. So I finished the books I was reading, set aside what I thought would be the next ones I’d read, and tackled Winterspell. I do not regret it.
Even though I had some difficulties embracing the beginning of the book (it felt a bit slow, Clara’s adoration for the statue crept me out, and it wasn’t easy then for me to relate to Clara), it did not take too long before I was enraptured by the story. Midway, when a certain character is face to face with Clara for the first time, I could barely put down the book.
After all, Legrand did a few things I love andthat don’t exist in fiction as much as they ought to. First, she created a very grey world and characters. Queen Anise, the villain, uses her fairy glamour to make people adore her. She is shown more than once to be cruel. Prince Nicholas, one of the heroes, wants nothing more than to do good by his people. He loves his kingdom. And yet… The humans are depicted as victims, and the fairies as despotic terrorists. And yet… And yet, there were countless instances where I doubted the existence of this dichotomy. I still do, for I could understand why each side acted and wanted what they did.
Second, there were organic bisexual characters. There was no dismissal of their feelings, no questioning whatsoever, and no criticism of their sexuality. They were attracted to men and women and that was it. Fiction, and the world itself, needs more of that. On that note, let me just say that the scenes between these characters were undoubtedly my favourites. The only thing that I was upset about regarding them was their end.
Third, she created a sympathetic villain. And I don’t mean this in a “Loki” way or anything of the sort. I barely felt sorry for Queen Anise for this or that. If anything, I criticised her for a number of things. But still I liked her. Very much so. I dare say she was my favourite character in the book.
Fourth, there were steampunk fairies and steampunk-like magic. Is the sound of that awesome or just plain awesome?
Let me explain what I mean by that. The world of Cane, ruled by fairies, is populated by buildings and clockwork that are constantly rebuilt in various shapes and sizes, not unlike such as cities as New York. New York City being where Clara lived. Indeed, the parallels between these two places are endless, which only helps make the story and worldbuilding more vivid. Legrand’s Cane and its magic are spellbinding and beautifully dark. She gave the Sugar Plum Fairy a completely different meaning.
The rest of the story too is inherently dark, and Legrand did not shy from making her characters’ nightmares come true. From the possibility of death if she steps out of the path politics weaved for her and the constant lurking of a sexual predator in Concordia, to enslavement and the building up of a war in a dystopian Cane, multiple plots are seamlessly interwoven into a unique book. There is always action, intrigue, romance, adventure and fear.
In a nutshell, I am glad I stuck with Winterspell despite a bit of a rocky beginning. This is the sort of story that gets better with the turn of the page, and one where the author did not fear taking risks. It is an original, twisted and, yes, sensual take on the Nutcracker tale, and one I am very glad I read.
The book in a quote
“You cannot shy away from yourself. Look the world in the eye, and it can do nothing to hurt you.”