Winterspell was nothing like I thought it would be. I blame Chelsey, when she first put the book in my hands she told me: “hey, it’s an adaptation of the Nutcracker.” Upon reading it, I soon came to realize that this wasn’t an adaptation, Claire Legrand used the Nutcracker Ballet as a starting point and just ran off into crazy land, and I found myself running after her.
Winterspell follows Clara a young woman who’s mother has been recently murdered. Her Father is the mayor of NYC, an alcoholic and has fallen in with the conspiracy Concordia. So in other words he’s kind of useless. It’s up to Clara to keep her family from falling into shambles and the servants of the house in order. In the beginning of the narrative Clara fluctuates between being extremely capable and a doormat. Her Godfather, the toymaker Drosselmeyer has taught her how to fight, something she has become extremely good at, but she’s too afraid to defend herself. She’s proved she has leadership qualities, but she’s petrified of pushing for proper treatment.
As you can guess her Godfather spends a lot of time looking like this:
In the real world NYC Clara’s main antagonist is the creepy Dr. Victor. He runs a home for orphan girls, is considered to be a pillar of the community, a gentleman, Clara is lucky to have his attention etc etc. Yeah no, Dr. Victor isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. He’s a twisted controlling man who performs experiments on the girls under his care and he is OBSESSED with possessing our heroine.
I mean even Concordia is terrified of him:
“You understand, then. I need him right where he is, happy and content. He’s too dangerous, his tastes too extreme. Even the lowest of criminals would turn on us, should he gain too much power. Even the street gang lords have a moral code. But not him.” (pg 45)
There is one more element that we need to talk about before I can get to the story and that would be the Nutcracker Nicholas. In Winterspell the Nutcracker is actually a statue that Clara is attracted too… and it’s kind of creepy.
“Then she knocked against the statue in the corner, and it was such a shock, such an awakening, that she had to gasp. Jolted out of her trance, her senses reeling, she used the statue to pull herself to her feet- and promptly forgot to breathe. The hard lines of the statue’s thighs, belly, chest, scraped against her skin, snagging at the cotton of her chemise, and she found herself moving slowly so as to prolong the contact. Molding herself to the metal, she sighed. Her palms slick with sweat, she slid them up the statue’s chest to cup bthe chiseled handsome jaw, and pressed herself closer…” (pg 22)
The major narrative takes off at the Christmas Eve Party. Clara’s Godfather shows up carrying the statue, raving that he has been discovered and that Clara needs to go with him. Clara clears out the party and tries to calm him down. The two of them are then attacked by a masked man accompanied by some cyborg rats (a sentence I never thought I would write). Clara’s Father is kidnapped and dragged through a portal. Her Godfather frees the statue and Concordia gives Clara an ultimatum. Bring back your Father in a week to be assassinated or we’ll give your sister to Doctor Viktor.
And that’s just the first fifth of the book.
Things finally pick up in the rest of the novel. Where Legrand’s NYC is vague at best her faerie world is complex, detailed, gritty and real making it one of the best fantasy worlds I’ve come across in the teen section in a long time. Humanity lives in squalor under their faerie overlords. People are addicted to a drug known only as sugar, buildings are rebuilt constantly by nanobots without concern for the people inside them. Cybernetic enhancements and crazy wardrobes are common place. The world is dirty, uncomfortable and my God I loved every minute of it.
I felt like I was in some fantasy version of Repo! The Genetic Opera
And at the centre of this craziness there is our BIG BAD Anise. She is by far the best part of the book. She’s interesting, she’s twisted and you kind of get where she comes from. Anise and Clara stand at two ends of the spectrum, completely shaped by the environments that they come from, but will they be able to meet in the middle?
Winterspell is a novel about relationships and how you’re defined by your interactions with people. Clara makes her way through the novel meeting other characters and learning about herself from them. I think my favourite relationship is the one between her and her Godfather, but that would be diving too deeply into spoiler territory so I’ll save it for another time.
All her interactions are calculated to shape her into a stronger person. Think of the Wizard of Oz, it’s not the quest to find the Wizard that’s important, it’s learning that you have your own inner strength to save yourself. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, you can see the calculated steps that Legrand has taken, Clara starts out so low on the self worth scale just so she has somewhere to go.
Winterspell was a decent read. Was it my favourite thing I’ve read this year? No? Was it the best fantasy novel of all time? No. It started out rocky but by the end of it I was invested in the characters and I wanted to see how the faerie world could be saved, because seriously I thought there was no coming back from that. So if you like fantasy stories, complex world building and are looking for something a little different then check this one out!