Winterspell by Claire Legrand


2 out of 5 stars.

For having such a cool premise, this was a major disappointment.

Winterspell is a Nutcracker rewrite. Clara, our protagonist, is in trouble in 1899 New York. Her father is part of a dangerous gang that is slowly turning on him, and Clara has attracted the eye of one of the gang’s creepiest and oldest members. Her Godfather Drosselmeyer is the only one she can turn to, but that trust is broken when he reveals his magic and one of his statues comes to life and pulls Clara into an alternate world. The statue is a prince and the alternate world is his faerie kingdom he has been banished from by an evil usurping queen. As her father has also been pulled into this land, Clara must rescue her father and help the prince regain his kingdom.

The most bothersome part of this novel was the gross inconsistencies in Clara’s character. She starts off as a very shy, meek girl existing with all of the taboos of society in the late nineteenth century. Within the course of the novel she becomes sexually adventurous, tolerant of homosexuality and totally free from all taboos that defined her at the beginning of the book. Since this book only covers a few weeks of her life, this seems completely unrealistic. I like it when people who are repressed become comfortable with themselves, but doing it in a couple of weeks is not really how humans seem to work. You cannot undo a lifetime’s worth of programming in less than a month, especially if that month is spent in a weird alternate dimension full of faeries. Clara is either incredibly wishy-washy and mouldable, or just a poorly written heroine.

As for plot, it was not close enough to the original Nutcracker to be an enjoyable homage, but not strong enough to stand on its own without the few references it did contain. The land of the Nutcracker does not at all resemble anything in this book. The pastry and sweets filled land of enchantment is unrecognizable as a Fairy built iron dystopia (more complaints on that later). There is no mouse king. There are no pastries. The nutcracker prince was never a nutcracker. Legrand seems to have taken 2 names and the loose premise of a prince in disguise as an inanimate object and thrown away everything else. If it was not for the use of the name “Drosselmeyer”, this would be unrecognizable as a rewrite.

There is also the inclusion of faeries building a new utopia for themselves (dystopia for the poor humans and mages also living there) out of technology and metal. Faeries do not like iron. It burns them. That is one of the accepted premises of the faery myth that pretty much every writer sticks to. That is part of the legend. It was really annoying to have that flipped around on me without some sort of clever explanation. It was like Legrand wrote about unicorns without horns and then failed to mention why they were missing one of their most distinct characteristics.

The romance scenes were awkward and more than a little lurid. Watching the sexual blossoming of naive girl set at high speed was uncomfortable and struck me as disengenuous on the part of Legrand.

If someone wants a gritty dystopian rewrite of a classic, I will direct them to Danielle Paige. This one is just not worth the time.


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