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...
About the Author
Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now Ms. Legrand is a full-time writer living in New Jersey. She has written two middle grade novels—The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012, and The Year of Shadows—as well as the young adult novel Winterspell. Visit her at Claire-Legrand.com and on Twitter @ClaireLegrand.
Read an Excerpt
One more hour and Clara Stole could turn criminal.
Could, that is, if she managed to stand her ground until then, for every eye in the crowd was watching her, waiting for her to say something impressive, something to commemorate the day. And she was so tired of fumbling through grand words that were never quite grand enough for such hungry, thirsty people. Hungry for food, thirsty for a numbing drink—but even hungrier, even thirstier, for hope.
What would Hope Stole have thought of Clara, on this strange, wintry day? What would she have thought of her elder daughter? She would have been proud of Clara, surely, for the speech Clara was about to make, and for keeping the Bowery Hope Shelter project alive despite the gradual decrease in funding.
And, just as surely, she would have been angry at Clara for what would come after—the criminal part, the part that would involve sneaking, thievery, breaking and entering.
The part Godfather had unknowingly inspired.
Yes, Hope Stole would have been disappointed, and her eyes would have flashed in that famously fearsome way, and she would probably have railed at Godfather about responsibility this and safety that. She had always been worried about her daughters’ safety, even more so than most mothers Clara knew, as if the world were full of dangers only she could see. Funny, that, as without her mother’s influence, Godfather wouldn’t have been brought into their lives, and without Godfather, Clara might not have ever thought of doing something like what she would do in—fifty-seven minutes, now?
And anyway, the daughter of a New York City gang lord is criminal by her very blood. Being uncriminal, Clara had decided—being good—would have been like snubbing her heritage.
Somehow she didn’t think her mother would have been impressed with that line of reasoning.
But her mother was dead, and it was past time for Clara to find answers. If she could only, for this short while, manage to keep her head.
That was her credo these days, and an increasingly difficult one to follow: Keep your head, Clara, while everyone around you loses theirs, or already has.
And when you yourself are close to doing the same.
Beside her, Leo Wiley, her father’s secretary, cleared his throat. Her cue.
Clara approached the edge of the stone steps, breathing deeply to calm her racing heart. Anxiety nipped at her insides; as always, she shoved past it. There was no place for it here, not when she was playing the good, glamorous mayor’s daughter. A tangle of red hair came loose from its knot and fell across her eyes, as though it knew her true state of mind. Before her the crowd waited, shifting, eyeing her—blankly, skeptically, and, a few, with hope.
“My mother loved this city,” Clara began, “and the people in it.” Her voice wanted to shrink and crack, and her hands were shaking. She wasn’t good at this, but she had to be, so she pretended. She didn’t like wearing this fine gown; even with its many layers and her winter coat, she felt bare, exposed, too prettied up to feel safe. But she had to look the part, so she tolerated her raging discomfort. Not for the first time that day, she wished her father were up here instead. It should have been him dedicating this building in his wife’s honor. But her father was different now; he had changed over the past year. Everything had.
“She, er . . .” Clara’s voice trailed off. The crowd glanced around, uncertain. So many of them, so many mouths and fears and empty bellies, measuring her. Surely they could see through this lace and satin and velvet brocade to the shaking nakedness underneath.
Pull yourself together, Clara Stole. You can’t afford not to.
“Pardon me.” She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, fingered the ebony cross at her neck. “She would have loved to be here today, you see.”
Ah. The crowd nodded sympathetically, shared knowing glances, shifted forward to better see the dear, tenderhearted, motherless girl. Clara felt Mr. Wiley puff up with pleasure; he would be proud of her performance. There would be a warm, supportive summary of the event in tomorrow’s paper. It would be fantastic press for the mayor’s office.
Clara clutched the worn wooden podium. It was the only thing preventing her from running away to hide, preferably in Godfather’s shop. There, no one’s eyes were ever on her except his solitary, sharp gray one—and the stern black ones of the statue in the corner.
“Again, pardon me.” Clara cleared her throat; the sound of tears in her voice, at least, would be genuine. Fifty-five minutes now, perhaps. She clung to the estimate with slipping nerves. Only fifty-five more minutes. “My mother worked tirelessly for the betterment of our city,” she continued, addressing the bare black branches in the park beyond, avoiding the eyes in the crowd. “She dreamed of a place where the less fortunate could turn for shelter, warmth, and rest.”
Clara gestured at the narrow gray edifice behind her—the new Bowery Hope Shelter, the building stained here and there with ash from the 1879 fire that had left several east-side neighborhoods in ruins.
“My great hope is that this shelter will do justice to her memory, and help fulfill her dream of a city that provides a place for everyone.”
Clara smiled at the crowd and stepped back, allowing Walter Higgins, the Commissioner for Human Health, to take the stage. A Concordia lord otherwise known as the Merry Butcher, his skill with a cleaver was legend—but today, he was all respectable reassurance. As he spoke, some of the crowd’s tentative smiles grew. Perhaps they believed his words—that the new shelter would provide a spot of relief for the growing number of people forced to live on the streets, and boost city morale in time for Christmas. Clara sighed; she knew better. Inside the shelter would be warmer than outside, yes, but the building was shoddy and flea-ridden, and instead of beds, poorly constructed coffins halfheartedly disguised with tarpaulins lined the walls. It was the only thing Clara had been able to persuade her father to provide.
“There’s no money, my sweet one,” John Stole would tell her again and again while he smoked imported cigars and reeked of fine alcohol, and while the other lords of the underground syndicate-turned-empire that called itself Concordia attended the theater with their wives, in silk top hats and heavy furs.
No money, indeed.
Clara was not her mother; she could influence her father only so much. Concordia had chosen him for their figurehead two years before, when Boss Plum had helped her father become mayor, bribing and threatening John Stole’s way to the top. But at what price? Her father’s integrity, for one. John Stole had barely resisted the most heinous of Concordia’s demands that first year in office. Clara had heard her parents’ arguments through their cracked-open bedroom door—her father insisting he must bow to Concordia’s wishes, her mother incredulous that he had gotten himself into this position.
But Hope’s murder had weakened John Stole, destroyed in the space of a day the last vestiges of his crumbling fortitude. It was as though something had eaten away at him over the past year, transforming him into a powerless ghost. Sometimes Clara felt as though she had lost two parents instead of just the one—one to murder, the other to the snarls of Concordia’s web.
She could still recall the headlines from that dreadful day, just after Christmas last year: HOPE IS DEAD!
“The headline writes itself, don’t it?” Clara had heard one of the scandalized servants whisper to another outside her mother’s parlor. There Clara had sat, sixteen years old and numb, her eleven-year-old sister, Felicity, sobbing in her arms, for once not worrying about her face turning blotchy.
The headline should have read, HOPE IS MURDERED: BLUDGEONED, SCALPED, MAIMED, AND HUNG LIKE A SPLIT-OPEN DOLL BY THE RIVERSIDE! Her father had not allowed her to see the photographs of her mother’s body, but Clara had heard Concordia gentlemen whispering about the grisly details at the mayor’s mansion when they’d slipped in through the underground entrance and thought no one was listening—especially not the mayor’s quiet elder daughter, who, thanks to Godfather, knew how to sneak.
And in sneaking—through the mansion and throughout the city—she had learned many things. Though her mother had been officially declared a victim of the downtown gang wars, Police Chief Greeley had confided to a Concordia gentleman, “The way she was killed, the unnecessary, disfiguring violence . . . The Townies don’t kill like that. None of the gangs do. I think it was something else entirely.” And there had been similar killings, more and more of them, in the past few months—bad ones, violent ones, most of them by the water and all of them so shockingly gruesome that Concordia had ensured they were kept out of the papers, to prevent a citywide panic.
Clara had also learned that her father was losing favor. In recent months, during lunches and private meetings at the mayor’s mansion, he had begun slandering his own people—Concordia people. He would accuse city council members, bought judges, even the chief of police, of unthinkable crimes. It was mutinous talk. Mutinous, anti-Concordia talk. Entrenched in every city department from sanitation and fire to law enforcement and the courts, the empire of Concordia had noticed John Stole’s discontent. At first they had dismissed it graciously as the rantings of the recently bereaved. But their patience had worn thin now, almost a year after Hope’s murder, and they were not happy. John Stole’s efforts were largely ineffectual; Concordia could see, just as Clara could, that he was all froth and bluster, without any real power behind his words. But a loose tongue, even that of a grieving, weak-willed figurehead, could be dangerous, and John Stole knew too many secrets for his actions to go unpunished.
Clara had to act fast, before her family lost all credibility with Concordia, before she lost her chance to find out what had really happened to her mother. At least for tonight, she had to become the person Godfather seemed to think she could be—someone not trapped by circumstance and crippled by fear.
She had to be more like her mother.
Hope Stole had never let Concordia weaken her. She had looked its cruelest lords straight in the eye and lambasted them unflinchingly for their corruption.
Clara wondered if they’d had her killed for that.
Regardless, it seemed an unattainable goal. “I’m not my mother!” she had cried more than once during her training with Godfather, frustrated that he would expect such things of her, things so far out of her grasp—her mother’s strength, her mother’s courage.
“No, you are not,” he would say each time, with the sort of conviction that had eluded Clara since her mother’s death, “but you are her daughter. You have that same fire within you.”
Godfather said it to encourage her, but his words served only to increase her fear. Yes, her mother had had a fire within—and look what had happened to her.
Mr. Wiley cleared his throat; the commissioner had finished his speech. Clara took the offered pair of shears and positioned the blades around the red satin ribbon stretched before her. She paused so the Times photographer could adjust the plates of his camera just so.
“Nice smile, Miss Stole, there we are,” said Mr. Wiley. “Nice and bright.”
Yes, a smile. A smile for the city still recovering from the recent depression, for the city thick with the rising violence of the downtown gangs and reeling from the unstable food prices, for the streets poisoned by a fear as rampant and deadly as disease.
She had to keep smiling, despite the many reasons not to. Concordia grew suspicious otherwise.
Clara pressed the shears’ blades together and cut.
The bright red ribbon floated away on either side. Tepid applause came from the weary-eyed crowd.
Mr. Wiley directed her down into the press of people—to shake hands with Commissioner Higgins, whose fat, grinning face shone pink; to place a hand on the shoulder of a stooped old man who scowled up at the shelter. Coffin house, his expression seemed to say. He knew—he was not a fool—and yet what was there to do?
Clara swallowed, each brush of someone’s arm against hers, each glance of every citizen she passed making her flinch. For there was nothing to do, except to pretend, and take what was given, and stay silent.
In this city Concordia had become law. And for the daughter of its figurehead, Concordia had become life.
So Clara stood beside the scowling old man and turned toward the photographer with a smile on her face. The old man’s shoulders shook with cold against her arm. Above them a bedraggled cluster of ribboned holly hung limply from a streetlamp.
All things considered, the decoration looked ridiculous. Parodic. Cruel.
Clara stared up at it, the crowd dispersing around her.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Winterspell by Claire Legrand is a breathtaking wonder of a book! The author has created an elaborate and beautiful world full of interesting characters and mystery. I was simply spellbound while reading and could not put it down easily! Winterspell reminds me a bit of Gregory Maguire's Wicked, a bit of Cinder by Marissa Meyer and of course, the tale of the Nutcracker. Highly recommended!
I have mixed feelings about this book but it was compulsively readable at the same time, and the worldbuilding is astounding. It's so complex and detailed, dark and sensual. It's really remarkable. I also loved Clara, and the statue/Nicholas; Drosselmeyer and Anise were compelling and multi-faceted. The magic was very cool. That all being said, something didn't fully click for me and I can't put my finger on it. I wasn't always invested in the stakes of the story and I was confused in the beginning. And some of the word choices bothered me for being almost too descriptive and too macabre. I also confess I wanted something a bit more Christmasy and Nutcracker-ish. I don't know the story super well but I know this was very different. Overall I'm glad I finally read this, and in December no less! I love retellings and this was a good one; I loved the beginning and the last 50 pages in particular.
Original Review Link: http://asdreamsaremade.com/2014/12/book-tuesday-winterspell/ Feeling in the holiday mood, I decided to pick up Winterspell since it is loosely based on the story of The Nutcracker-I'm so glad I did! The story starts off in an alternate version of turn-of-the-century NYC. Clara Stole is the mayor's daughter, struggling with a depressed and drunken father who has never been the same after her mother's murder. She wants to fight against the corruption in the city, secretly leading a double life as the mayor's dutiful daughter while training with her Godfather in self-defense. When her home is attacked on Christmas Eve by creatures she never knew existed and her father abducted, Clara ventures into a whole new world to save him. Her only help comes from a cursed prince whose motives aren't always clear. Clara is faced with truths about herself, her mother's true past, and those closest to her. She must learn to find the courage in herself to be who she was meant to be or all of Cane will be lost. I loved this! You will never look at The Nutcracker in the same away again. I think the best thing about this book was the characters. They were very complex and not so cut and dry. Clara struggles with decisions and choices that everybody goes through. It is a true coming of age story for her, but not so trite as most are. The good are not so good and the bad are not so bad in this book-which I loved because isn't that more like real life? People are different shades of good and evil. One of my favorite characters was Anise. She was clearly insane, but at the same time she cut such a tragic figure that you didn't know whether or not you wanted her to find redemption or damnation by the end. Very unusual for a villain in a YA novel. Drosselmeyer was the perfect example of how parents and parental figures don't always make the right decisions, but do the best they can at that moment-they're only human. Nicholas was a boy who was thrust into this impossible position and forced to grow up. He makes rash, immature decisions, as most teenagers do, and realizes he needs decide what he wants if he truly wants to be happy. I could go on and on with the other characters because they were all interesting. There wasn't one in this book that was clich?. Each had their own journey and story arc that made the plot equally engaging. The world building was very unique. I would describe it as steam punk meets fairy magic. Usually, I'm not so gung-ho about steam punk, but this didn't bother me. It just fit with the narrative and the world. The story is dark at times and deals with some disturbing images, but nothing I couldn't handle (and I am the BIGGEST wimp when it comes to that-the Maze Runner freaked me out more). It is a harsh world though, so everything included was appropriate to the narrative and storyline. If you're looking for a twist on a holiday classic, this is the book to pick up. It's a nut-cracking good read! ;)
One of the best books I've read in a long time!
New York City, 1899. Clara Stole's mother has been dead for a year. Without the guiding goodness of her mother, Clara lives in fear of the greed and corruption that grip New York City and the Concordia syndicate that rules it with a firm and corrupt hand with her father as their mayor and figurehead. Thanks to her godfather, Drosselmeyer, Clara is well trained in self-defense. But blending into shadows, picking locks and throwing a punch are little help when the mere thought of confronting the dangerous leaders of Concordia fills Clara with crippling dread. Despite her perceived weakness, Clara is determined to find out the truth behind her mother's murder. But in uncovering that truth, Clara also finds shocking secrets about her own life. On Christmas Eve Clara's house is attacked and her father abducted by mysterious creatures not of this world. To rescue her father and keep her family safe, Clara will have to follow the creatures to Cane--a distant land ravaged by magic and strife--with only Nicholas, cursed prince of Cane, for help. Clara needs Nicholas and therefore must work him but the prince has secrets and an agenda of his own--one that may do Clara more harm than good. With time running out as she moves through Cane's ruthless landscape, Clara realizes she can trust no one but herself if she hopes to leave Cane alive in Winterspell (2014) by Claire Legrand. Winterspell is Legrand's first young adult novel. Readers can also pick up a companion prequel novella called Summerfall. An extended epilogue called Homecoming can be found on Legrand's website. Legrand delivers a sumptuous, rich fantasy in this dark retelling of The Nutcracker. Winterspell stays true to the source material (even including epigraphs from the original story at the start of each section) while also pushing the plot in unexpected directions in this story about magic gone wrong, war and the strength that comes from realizing your own power. While Clara knows she is strong and capable she is also hampered by her own fears and doubts as much as by the trappings of being a young woman of privilege in 1890s New York. Clara is terrified of her own strength (and her inability to use it at crucial moments), her own body, and especially her own sexuality. As much as this story is about magic and action, it is equally about Clara's sexual awakening as she learns to embrace all aspects of her self even those society tells her she should hide away. Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that brings the world of Cane monstrously to life. Endpapers provide a detailed map of Cane (illustrated by Catherine Scully) while Legrand's prose evokes the fearful cold and danger lurking around every corner. The interplay between Clara and Nicholas adds another dimension to this story. Both characters rightfully have a healthy suspicion of each other but also an undeniable physical attraction. There is a delicious slow burn as these characters circle each other. This distrust and attraction coalesces into a thoughtful treatment of consent that works on many levels throughout the story. Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that operates in the grey areas between good and evil. With brutal heroes and sympathetic villains this is a multifaceted story sure to appeal to fantasy readers and fans of unconventional retellings. Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Jackaby by William Ritter, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
I will admit I'm not too familiar with the story of The Nutcracker, but this cover drew me in. Not a bad read at all.
I loved it. I have always loved the ballet the nutcracker so I really enjoyed this twist.
Claras dad is Mayor of Concordia but he is being used as a tool by the same people that put him in power. Claras mother is brutally murdered and Clara is thankful that she at least has one person she can turn to, her Godfather. He owns a shop and makes clockwork toys and Clara spends a lot of her time there. He is teaching her how to defend herself because Concordia is such a dangerous place. She loves it there and loves watching him work. In his shop there is a statue of a night that Clara is drawn to. She likes to pretend he is real and she whispers secrets to it and talks to it like she cant anyone else. One night her Godfather comes to her raving about how they have found him and are coming and how he is so close to freeing the curse. She has no idea what he is on about until he shows her the statue, except now there is a light coming from inside and what sounds like moaning. Before her very eyes the statue comes to life. Her Godfather explains some things to her and introduces her to Nicholas. From then on her life is completely turned around The second I saw that cover I added this to my wishlist. Just look how fantastic and beautiful it is!! Then I saw its a reimagining of The Nutcracker and I knew I had to read it. Now the only Nutcracker I've seen is the one with Barbie so I'm not too familiar with the story but I still have a fair idea of whats it about. Anyway, on to what I thought of Winterspell. At the start I found it hard to like Clara. She came across as so weak and meek despite being able to fight. Her Godfather taught her how to fight yet when she could of stood up to Dr Victor ,she never did. I wanted to shout and tell her to grow a backbone!! I was so close to giving up on Winterspell simply because Clara was like two different people, the strong one when she was fighting and the weak one all the rest of the time, but I'm so happy I kept going. She is the first character I've read about in a long time that grew so much during the course of the book and I ended up loving her. Onto Nicholas, the statue that came to life. I cant say too much about him or why he was a statue because of spoilers but I will say that I loved his story. I also loved how Clara was with him as a statue and then to see her dream man come to life, it was so sweet. When he comes to life she feels like she can trust him because he knows her better than anyone else but can she truly trust him or does he have his own agenda? Anise, the fairy queen was one twisted, broken fairy. She was perfect really!! Twisted, brutal and blood thirsty yet she is so lonely and is longing for love. She is half human and half fairy but wholly crazy. What she did to Nicholass' world and what she did and does to people was so evil but in her mind she is trying to make the world right. She was the perfect baddy though because she wasn't black and white, she is a shade of gray. I loved the different world and the mythology of that world in Winterspell. The authors world building was phenomenal!! Claire Legrand can definitely build a world that you will fall in love with even though that world is riddled with evil. I loved the setting of Winterspell and I loved the diverse characters the author put into both worlds. In Concordia we have the very evil Dr Victor who experiments on girls and is just so creepy to the very evil fairies in the other world both different worlds but both similar in a way. Both worlds have people in power that care nothing about the little people and Clara has to try to fight both! So ya, overall I loved Winterspell. From the political Concordia to the magical Cane, this book is a must read. It has plenty of action, it has suspense, it has magic, it has clockwork things, it has mad fairies and it has subtle romance so all in all it has everything you want in a great book! The author took the story of the Nutcraker and totally made it her own, she made it dark and deadly and its a story that's not easily forgotten. Its definitely a magical, fantastical reimaging of the Nutcraker!
A Haunting Re-Telling of a Favorite Fairy Tale A BIG thank you to Simon&Schuster for providing a copy of review! This does not affect my thoughts or opinions as expressed below. Winterspell by Claire Legrand is a beautiful and haunting retelling of the E.T.A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker. At seventeen, Clara Stole is on a mission to find out what happened to her mother who was brutally murdered earlier in the year. Her father is a powerful man with little to back-up that power, mayor of New York City and a member of the city's most notorious gang Concordia, but he is no help to her mission. Concordia is planning something dark and when Clara finds out, she turns to her eccentric godfather who uses to tell her magical stories of a faraway land. After her father is abducted in what Clara can only describe as a nightmare and her sister's life is threatened by Concordia, she learns that not all her godfather's stories were fiction. Memorable Characters Clara Stole is a character I won't soon forget. She is passionate, fearful yet brave in the face of her fears, strong, courageous, loyal, and all too trusting. Well she's trusting until she finds out the truth behind her mother's murder then she is distrustful. I love her! I love watching the progression of her life in this book, going from a young woman wanting to know about her mother's murder to a very powerful woman who helps a prince to save his kingdom. Nicholas is a status in Clara's godfather's shop. Clara has always been attracted to the statue and would talk to it and tell it her secrets. Then after a rather disturbing set of incidents, Nicholas is released from the statue and becomes a prince....Yep you read that right, statue becomes a prince. Clara was a bit freaked. Nicholas happens to be the prince of the kingdom from godfather's stories and it makes life rather confusing and embarrassing for our Clara. Godfather Drosselmeyer is exactly as I would have pictured him to be. He's got an element of magic to him, very spastic and eccentric. He only gives Clara the information she needs when she needs it, never before. Also he scares me slightly, and I don't know why but I can't get Doc from Back to the Future out of my head every time I think of him. All he's missing is the eyepatch, and of course the crazy clothes ;) I even heard his voice while reading! Then there is Anise, the queen of the Elves who overthrew and killed the royal family, effectively taking over Cane and instituting a very anti-human regime. She is a bit crazy, lonely, and pissed off beyond belief. She is the silent kind of crazy, you know the one you have to watch out of the corner of your eye. She scares me a bit! Haunting Plot This story captured my attention and I was fully vested in the characters from page one. The author weaves a haunting tale of romance, war, and betrayal. As Clara delves into a world that she had once believed a myth, the author plunges both the characters and reader into the magical kingdom of Cane. Creatures and magic are revealed as Clara experiences it herself. The plot revolves around two main lines: first Clara finding her father and saving her sister, second Nicholas reclaiming his kingdom. Clara isn't really sure what to think of her statue turned prince and Nicholas is infatuated I believe. Here is this young woman who was his only real companion (besides crazy Drosselmeyer) while he was cursed inside a statue. If it was me, I'd probably worship the ground she walked on or at least be fascinated being able to talk to her. And this is exactly how it is. For him, he feels he knows Clara inside and out. For Clara, he was just a statue, but now he's a stranger. Can she really trust him?Then Anise can weave a web that you never get out of. She spins half-truths to keep what she wants. And she wants Clara. The question is why. My Conclusion If I'm being brutally honest I would say this is by far my favorite read all year, and I'm not sure it can be topped! The details of Clara's world, the magical kingdom of Cane, and the characters created by the author are beautifully written and standout vividly in my mind. Now I might be slightly biased as The Nutcracker was one of my favorite books/movie growing up. I loved the tale and still do! Now there is a prequel novella, Summerfall, that gives the reader a little insight into Anise and how this war originated. I personally read it prior to Winterspell. However I believe you can read it before or after without it spoiling this story. Though I wouldn't skip it entirely! It's a wonderfully written story and gives a lot of background that enhances Winterspell and its characters. If you enjoy fairy tales, a bit of dark romance, new adult/young adult fiction then I highly suggest you get this book. I promise you will not be disappointed. It is well worth the read!
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog*** Winterspell by Claire Legrand Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication Date: September 30, 2014 Rating: 2 stars Source: eARC from Edelweiss Summary (from Goodreads): The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums. New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor's ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother's murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer. Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes. Her home is destroyed, her father abducted--by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they're to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets--and a need she can't define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won't leave Cane unscathed--if she leaves at all. Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear. What I Liked: Umm, I didn't know this was a "The Nutcracker" retelling. Well, the synopsis does say that it is "inspired" by "The Nutcracker", but still. I'm not entirely sure I saw the influences. Or maybe it's just been that long since I've watched "The Nutcracker". Anyway. I agree about "dark" and maybe "fairy tale", but ehhh about "timeless". Just saying. Clara's mother was murdered. Clara's father has basically gone mad. Clara's godfather has been training her in defense and knives and fighting, all the while obsessing over something else. Clara has been struggling not to recoil when a Dr. Victor touches her, leers at her, threatens to basically take her innocence... all the while, Concordia is falling to corruption, especially with Clara's father (the mayor) not doing much. One night, everything basically goes to s*** and Clara finds herself with her godfather who is not human, the statue who is now a flesh-and-blood "human" not-human who is a prince... and a missing father. She must bring her father back before Dr. Victor and a politician destroy her life - but to do so, she must travel with Nicholas, the prince, to Cane, the magical land from where the prince is. Where the evil half-faery, half-human queen resides. The plot, overall, was good! The beginning was very slow (I'll get to that later), so I honestly just kept flipping and skimming pages at one point. Things really don't start to get interesting until like, 20% in, or whenever the "loks" show up (not entirely sure what they are). Then Clara meets Nicholas, finds out that her father was taken, and enters Cane with Nicholas. I liked everything up until Clara and Nicholas were separated (not giving more context than that, but I think this is important and you should know that it does happen). Clara and Nicholas are an excellent pair. They bicker and boss each other around, but they are also fierce and protective and immensely loyal. I love that Nicholas sticks with her no matter what he needs to do for his kingdom. He isn't perfect, and he contemplates terrible things, but he is such a great character. Nicholas is... not faery, so he's human? I think he's human. But he's a royal, and that literally means power. So I liked Clara, and Nicholas - and I especially liked them TOGETHER. The romantic scenes in this book are few and far between - which was extremely disappointing, because I thought this one was pegged as "dark" and "sexy"? It's dark, ish, but not sexy. Not really, anyway. The queen, Anise, has a heck of a lot of sensuality, and it gets weird when Anise and Clara are holed up in Anise's Summer Palace... weird. Read on for what I didn't like! Balanced review for the win! What I Did Not Like: One of the first things I mentioned above was that the beginning is slow. Oh, is it slow. Clara's life in New York is so dull and frightful and boring and aggravating. I totally get the historical authenticity of Clara's situation, but snooooooooooozzzzzzeeeeee, and not interested. I liked it when the magical part to this book was introduced. Otherwise, this would have been one BORING historical fiction novel. And you know that I know a lot about historical fiction novels, since I read so many of them (adult and Young Adult). In general, this book moved slowly - I bet about 100 pages could be shaved off this book, and it'd move only slight faster. *snores* I didn't like how the romance panned out. Clara and Nicholas have chemistry from the start - which I liked a lot. I had such high hopes for this book, because from the start, sparks fly. Heck, flames fly. Clara and Nicholas are one big mess of chemistry. So much sizzle. But. So little chemistry-filled scenes. Disappointing, no? For such a hyped-up, "sexy"-tagged romance, it was very not-explored. There was no physical romance between these two, despite the fact that the chemistry was sizzling. Clara bolts in the ONE SCENE, and the next one is not actually real, and that's it. Two scenes. Disappointing. Then there was Clara's time at the Summer Palace with Anise. Talk about... weird. I'm personally not a fan of girl-on-girl action, but if you are, good for you. Things get frisky between these two. I'm totally serious. At first, I thought Clara was just going along with Anise, and trying to manipulate her, so she could escape. But then... I think Clara actually enjoyed things. So I'm not sure. *shudders* This is like, a good chunk of the book. Perhaps one fourth or maybe even one third of the book is the leg of the love triangle in which Anise and Clara get it on. I was not amused. And then the author tried to play it off in the end like Clara was just really similar to Anise, in terms of abilities and whatnot, but whatever. No. Call it empowering, call it feminism, call it whatever you want - I don't read lesbian fiction. In any case, I find that Clara was kind of a dunderhead. She is pathetic, which is how she is supposed to appear in this time of history, but she ACTS the part and IS the part. Literally lets everyone do all the hard work for her... ew. I sort of liked her in the very beginning, because I felt bad for her, but when we reached the magical realm, my liking of her plummeted. She couldn't stand up for herself for s***. The book seemed kind of... not convincing. I'm not sure how to approach this feeling - but like, the prince has NO ARMY. No one recognizes him, because he was in "Beyond" (New York) for years, and time in Cane moves four times faster. How in the WORLD did the prince and company defeat Anise's minions? Not realistic, even though we're talking about a fantasy world. For that matter, the fantasy was a bit disappointing? There are mechaniks, which are like any other robot or steel creature or whatever unoriginal nonsense Legrand came up with. Meh. Not impressive. And what the heck are "loks" - I don't even know myself! What was up with that train - are there trains in Cane? What happened to it? I have no idea what happened directly after Nicholas and Clara entered Cane. Anise - not impressive. Selfish, beautiful, young-looking despot, claiming the lands as her own? SOOOOOO original. The ending was SO WEAK. So I can get past Clara's actions with Anise. Maybe. But then... the ending... the romance... it's "happy", ish, but not really. I can't explain it without giving things away. Time works differently in the "Beyond" world (New York), and in Cane (Nicholas's world). Time moves faster in Cane. So. Um. Yeah. No me gusta al fin. Would I Recommend It: Meh. I know everyone seems to be excited for this one (hey, I was too!), so go read it. But no, I wouldn't recommend it if you're bored or have never heard of it. Read it if you already WANTED to read it. It's an okay story, the cover is pretty, the hero is likable, and hey, maybe you like scant (and weird) romances, disappointing endings, unoriginal fantasy tropes, bisexual love triangles. I know many reviewers are like OMG SO GOOD, so it might just be me... Rating: 1.5 stars -> rounded up to 2 stars. This one wasn't that great... and I didn't love it, like I wanted to. I wouldn't re-read it, nor would I buy it, nor would I pick it up or look at it. Which is totally a shame, because I wanted a hardcover with that cover. Oh well!