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Visions of Sugar Plums (and Giant Rats)

Claire Legrand’s Winterspell, a retelling of The Nutcracker, takes Clara’s magical Christmas dream to a whole other world.

Visions of Sugar Plums (and Giant Rats)

BOOK REPORT for Winterspell (Winterspell #1) by Claire Legrand

Cover Story: Vampire Bella Swan
BFF Charm: Eventually
Swoonworthy Scale: 6
Talky Talk: Fractured Fairytale Ballet
Bonus Factors: Retelling
Bonus/Anti-Bonus Factor: Series Starter
Anti-Bonus Factor: Unsettled Feeling
Relationship Status: Fireside Friends

Cover Story: Vampire Bella Swan

Although, on the whole, this cover is pretty and wintry, I can’t get the fact that the cover girl looks like Bella Swan after she becomes a vampire (minus the red/gold eyes) out of my head. I mean, look at this picture. It’s not exact, but it’s so close.

The Deal:

Clara Stole is the eldest daughter of the mayor of New York City, and therefore expected to play the part of dutiful and charming daughter. But Clara doesn’t want that life, and she wants even less to be part of the criminal underground behind her father’s power, the Concordia.

During the annual mayor’s Christmas party, longtime family friend Godfather Drosselmeyer—who typically shows up with a sack full of toys for the children in attendance—shows up with a sack filled with mechanized weapons and a warning that Clara is no longer safe. Clara’s wish for a different life is granted, albeit not in the way she would have expected, when giant cyborg rats attack, Clara’s father is abducted, and Clara is forced to follow the abductor into Cane, a mysterious other dimension run by a despotic fairy named Anise.

BFF Charm: Eventually

Clara’s an interesting girl, and there were times while reading Winterspell that I really liked her, and others when I really disliked her. The book is set in 1899, and, at the start, Clara’s a young woman forced to play a role she doesn’t want in order to keep her family safe. She lets herself be leered at by the creeptastic Dr. Victor, and cowers when faced with the leaders of Concordia. But she escapes to Godfather’s toy shop as often as she can, to train her body and her mind for some unforeseen (at least by her) battle. Yet, she’s still a feeble, fearsome thing most of the time.

When she finds herself in Cane, Clara begins to discover things about herself that she never could have imagined. She gets stronger, and more confident, but yet is constantly worried about how she’s seen by others, and becomes nearly comatose with the idea of being improperly dressed (too much skin, too much leg, too much decolletage) way too often. I’m not super comfortable with my own body, but I just wanted to yell at her to get over it more than once.

By the end of the book, she’s definitely grown, but it’s not until the very last few pages that I finally began to see a person I’d really enjoy hanging out with.

Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Clara’s long been (strangely) obsessed with a statue of a young man in Godfather’s shop. Everytime she visits, she tries to find a moment alone to talk to it, to tell it her secrets, to caress its face. (I told you it was strange.) And after the whole crapstorm goes down on Christmas Eve, Clara meets a young man who makes her feel all sorts of feelings, both good and bad. Suffice it to say, Clara’s got questionable taste in men, but things eventually work out for the best. The swoon never quite did it for me, however; Clara’s way too caught up in her own head for the majority of the book.

Talky Talk: Fractured Fairytale Ballet

I’m a fan of retellings (see more about that below), so it’s no surprise that Winterspell intrigued me from the first time I read its blurb. Claire Legrand has crafted a world that’s both somewhat familiar, if in a historical/fictional sense, and turned it into something unique and intriguing. It’s not a typical fairy book, either, even though the main villains are fairies—the fairies in Winterfell are both beautiful and ruthless, and are obsessed with magical technology and power by any means necessary. I would have liked to see a little more of that world building prowess go into the main characters, who were a bit flat.

Bonus Factor: Retelling

Although Winterspell was released in September, I’ve saved it to read until now because it’s a retelling of The Nutcracker, which is totally a Christmassy thing. It’s, as described on the cover in a quote from Marissa Meyer, “definitely not your grandmother’s Nutcracker tale,” but it’s got enough hints at the original to keep it familiar. I really liked the expansion of the magical world in the ballet into something a bit more sinister, because, really, giant rats are scary as heck, and I appreciate a situation in which that is pointed out so clearly.

Bonus/Anti-Bonus Factor: Series Starter

I didn’t realize this was the start of a series until I went to Goodreads to log my read. Winterspell’s ending is open-ended, but not a cliffhanger, so this is a book that can stand on its own. I’m glad there will be more, however, as I really enjoyed the world Legrand created, and I’m hoping for more swoon in future sequels.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Unsettling Feeling

Many scenes in this book left me with an uncomfortable feeling, and I’m not sure all of them were supposed to (all scenes with Dr. Victor aside, which were definitely supposed to illicit a sick feeling): Clara’s being paraded around as a toy, being forced to dress up and perform for a variety of individuals; her strange preoccupation with her nakedness or feeling thereof; the various descriptions of the horrible conditions in Cane. There’s a sinister feeling underlying much of Winterspell that I didn’t expect, and I didn’t much care for.

Casting Call:

Kristen Stewart (with red hair) as Clara

I can’t help it.

Relationship Status: Fireside Friends

Regardless of the hard time I had liking your main character, or the unsettled feeling you often gave me, Book, I had a fun time on our first date. You told me a strange and imaginative version of a story I know and love, and I got quite caught up in your tale. It was a great story to read at Christmas, and perfect for curling up on the couch with under a cozy blanket and with a steaming cup of hot cider nearby.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Simon and Schuster. I received neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. Winterspell is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.