“Our stories say that when the human world was first made, not all of it fit.”
Winterspell falls into the current trend of fairy tale retellings, but with a unique origin. Inspired by the ballet The Nutcracker, Claire Legrand spins an intricate story of faeries and mages in another world.
Clara Stole is haunted by the brutal murder of her mother, but she has to care for her younger sister and drunken father, the mayor of New York City in 1899. Her only constant is her godfather, Drosselmeyer, who teaches her self-defense and provides an escape from the watchful eyes of the Concordia mafia, and especially the cruel Dr. Victor, who expresses a bit too much interest in Clara.
On Christmas Eve, Clara’s home is attacked by mechanized creatures shaped like rats, and her father is kidnapped. She must venture to Cane, another world entirely, with the help of Nicholas, a dethroned and cursed prince, and her own hidden powers to defeat the evil faery queen and rescue her father.
Clara experiences an exceptional growth over the course of the novel in every way. Legrand is rare in her inclusion of deliberate teenage sexuality and discovery. It was realistic in progression from fear and curiosity to acceptance and comfort.
The most interesting character, though, comes in the form of Anise, the faery queen. Half faery and half royal, her magic is stronger than that of anyone Cane has ever seen before. Her sordid backstory and uncertain motivations add complexity to her disposition and enrich the world around them. The two of them make very strong female characters on both ends of the spectrum, protagonist and antagonist. Each woman is not only capable of taking care of herself, but they both choose to do so at various intervals.
Winterspell is not an exact retelling by any means; it is a much darker and more mature version of the ballet. Sugar becomes an addictive drug forced on humans to coerce them into complacency. The Nutcracker figure (Nicholas) is angry and mysterious in his intentions for Clara and for Cane. There is a surprise element of LGBT, but I don’t want to reveal too much about it. The descriptions of both setting and actions are so vivid in world-building, it could make an excellent fantasy film, but only if given a Hobbit-sized budget. It could go very cheesy very fast if put on the big screen without great effort.
I recommend this book for the older YA fan, someone looking for an impressive fantasy world and a distinctive twist on an old classic. Legrand’s first venture from middle grade to young adult is, in my opinion, a definite success.
4 out of 5 stars
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See this review on Girls in Capes