A gorgeously imagined Nutcracker retelling from award-winning author Sherri L. Smith.
Stefan Drosselmeyer is a reluctant apprentice to his toymaker father until the day his world is turned upside down. His father is kidnapped and Stefan is enlisted by his mysterious cousin, Christian Drosselmeyer, to find a mythical nut to save a princess who has been turned into a wooden doll. Embarking on a wild adventure through Germany, Stefan must save Boldavia’s princess and his own father from the fanatical Mouse Queen and her seven-headed Mouse Prince, both of whom have sworn to destroy the Drosselmeyer family.
Based on the original inspiration for the Nutcracker ballet, Sherri L. Smith brings the Nutcracker Prince to life in this fascinating journey into a world of toymaking, magical curses, clockmaking guilds, talking mice and erudite squirrels.
"An absorbing tale of adventure, invention, family loyalty, and sly humor. . . . Bursting with unforgettable characters." —School Library Journal, starred review
"Exceedingly well done, this is a great fantasy novel and is highly recommended for middle grade readers, fans of fantasy, and lovers of The Nutcracker." —VOYA
About the Author
Sherri L. Smith (www.sherrilsmith.com ) is the author of several novels for young adults, including the critically acclaimed Flygirl and Orleans. She lives in Los Angeles, California. Follow her on Twitter: @Sherri_L_Smith
Read an Excerpt
IT WAS A DREARY DAY for the time of year in Nuremberg. Gray clouds hung low over the peaked roofs of townhome and hall. The cobblestoned streets seeped with drizzled rain. A little gray dove leapt into the air from a great oak tree that stood in the graveyard. From his perch in the limbs of the tree, Stefan Drosselmeyer watched as the bird flew over hundred-year-old graves, and the newer crypts adorned with weeping angels and family names.
A thin line of mourners followed the coffin in a sad parade through the cemetery gates and into the mossy rows of the dead. In the distance, two gentlemen on horseback, clad in the same black as mourners, regarded the scene from a nearby rise.
A hitch developed in the smooth strokes of the dove’s wingbeats and it faltered. Stefan frowned as the wings froze and the bird glided back toward his tree, where he snatched it from the sky. One of the men on horseback looked up, revealing an eye patch and a single bright blue eye.
Stefan scooched farther back into the shelter of the tree. He bit his lip, turning the dove over in his hands. Up close, the bird looked less like a dove and more like a child’s approximation of a bird. A solid shape, no feathers, and only a dark spot of paint for the eye. He had just completed his apprenticeship as a toymaker and was proud of his bird. His father, who also happened to be his master toymaker, was the old-school sort who thought toys should only move when lifted. But Stefan was more interested in the modern trend toward automation. He brushed a shock of damp hair out of his eyes and frowned at the damaged wings. The paint had failed to seal the joints completely, and rain had gotten in, swelling the wood.
In the graveyard beneath his tree, the procession had come to a stop before a low black crypt. He could hear the priest droning on, the sound of his father in tears.
“Where is he?” a sharp-nosed woman whispered. Stefan’s absence had been noticed.
“He’s just a child,” a plump woman murmured. “The church service was more than enough.”
It had been more than enough, Stefan agreed. The gloomy cathedral, soot blackened, candles barely bright enough to see by. And his mother, cold and pale in the narrow coffin.
His father had insisted on building the casket himself, a tribute to his beloved wife. He wished to be alone with only his tools, not his son. Left to his own devices, Stefan had decided to make the dove.
Murmured condolences covered the gossip of the two women. Stefan examined the wooden bird. When wound by the pegged tail feather piece, the wings would crank to a point of tension and then, with the tail cocked just so—the bird would take flight. Light wooden wings beating a frantic blur. A favorable wind could keep the dove aloft for minutes at a time.
But today the wind blew strange. He stuffed the bird into the pocket of his redingote and pulled out a sketchbook. The wool coat was too big for him, and too heavy for the weather, but it was his only black coat. He’d grow into it, his mother had said. For now, it kept out the worst of the rain.
He jotted down a few thoughts in his notebook beside a sketch of the bird device. Below, he could hear the priest’s blessings come to an end. He risked a glance down at the gathering. The door to the crypt stood open, black as night, blacker than the lacquered coffin. Above the lintel, a name was carved deep into the stone: Drosselmeyer.
With a slide of wet leaves, Stefan dropped out of the far side of the tree and hopped the fence, his coat snagging briefly on the rusty iron bars. He dragged himself free without looking back. A tear in the wool would be more easily mended than a tear in his heart, and that was what would happen if he watched them roll his mother into her grave.
Don’t look back, he told himself. His hair was in his eyes again, the same blue-green eyes as his mother’s, the same dark blond hair. He pushed the locks brusquely out of his way. “Never look back,” he said through clenched teeth, and walked out into the gray world. His boots clattered onto the cobblestones, gaining in tempo as he broke into a run.
• • •
ON THE HILL overlooking the graveyard, the men on their strange black horses shifted. No breath rose from the nostrils of their stone-still mounts. The men shook their reins, and with a soft click of gears, the horses followed Stefan into the street.
Excerpted from "The Toymaker's Apprentice"
Copyright © 2016 Sherri L. Smith.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Young Readers Group.
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