“LOOK THE WORLD STRAIGHT IN THE EYE, AND IT CAN DO NOTHING TO HURT YOU.”
~ANISE , WINTERSPELL
NOTHING holds a candle to what Claire Legrand has created.
Now, Bonnie reviewed WINTERSPELL back when it first came out. It's an amazing review and if you want to check it out you can find it here. But my obsession with this book dictates that I have to fawn over it myself. So ready, set, here we go.
Let's start out with our heroine, Clara. Legrand had a lot of room to build here in this retelling, because in the books and the ballets, Clara's character has always been rather...generic. She's a girl, she gets a Nutcracker, mouse battles occur, they go watch Sugar Plum fairies dance. Visually it's beautiful, but it's never had much background. Enter Legrand, whose ability to give readers detailed and human characters is amazing. Clara is a perfect mixture of personality. She's growing up in New York City in 1899, and that's reflected in her very Victorian views on what thoughts should or shouldn't exist in her head, on the mannerisms society at that time has drilled into her. But you feel her strength right from the get-go. Her mother has been brutally murdered and she's looking after her father and sister. In her spare time, she's learning sparring and battle techniques from her mysterious Godfather Drosslemeyer. She is constantly in battle with her independent thoughts as a young woman, and the pressures of the world around her. And this is just where she starts off. The growth that Clara displays under Legrand's influence is just...it reels you in. I cried for Clara. I cheered out loud for her when she finds her strength and her sense of self. She's a main character you connect with on a deeply personal level; you find yourself never wanting to leave her head because the narration makes her feel so very real.
And of course, we can't just leave it at that. No, there are more amazing characters. All the familiar souls from the tale of The Nutcracker are present here, with new layers of interesting characterization that give them a whole new vibrancy. Nicholas, our Nutcracker, is not made of wood. Instead, he was cursed, trapped as a metal statue in Drosslemeyer's care. Even after the curse has been semi-lifted, he is left with curls of metal under his skin...and god, this is symbolic of how the curse remains to scar him. But not just the curse. In a way, Nicholas has been stained by his past, by his deeds, by the poisonous effects that war can have on hearts and souls.
The other example of this is Anise, the fairy queen/Sugar Plum Fairy, ya'all. She was once innocent, but war took its toll on her, too. It's clear that she's meant to be the villain in this tale...but then, well...she's sort of as much a victim as anyone else. I felt bad for her: I felt sympathy and a sort of sad understanding of how she came to be who she is as a character. It's probably my favorite part about the characters in this book. There are moments where you question them, and moments where they question themselves, the delicate balance of good versus evil keeps you on your toes because it's a line that is always moving.
Aside from the kickass characters, there is so much gorgeous imagery in WINTERSPELL. Cane is a vivid world, with occasional steampunk qualities, a dark and war-torn land. Our time in Victorian England is dark and full of shadowy corners as well. The setting really lends to the theme of the story and Legrand is so good at having these moments where she lets the setting give you a taste of what's about to come. You find yourself paying attention to little things...what color is the sky, what is the wind doing? Every detail matters where this narration is concerned. Silver blood, the silver of metal weapons slashing, the stormclouds that fill the sky, god do I love me some good imagery.
If I start getting into the plot, the delicate twists and turns, the ups and downs, the way the climax hits you in the stomach and drags you along after it...well, I probably wouldn't ever stop writing. And then there would be spoilers. The promise of engaging characters and vivid plot settings should be enough to get your fingers itching to turn the first page of WINTERSPELL by Claire Legrand.