{Review} WINTERSPELL by Claire Legrand

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
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O P E N I N G   H O O K:

   OUR STORIES SAY THAT WHEN the human world was first made, not all of it fit.
   Pieces fell off the whole, like too much dough being stuffed into a small pan, and those bits dropped into cracks and were forgotten. Our stories, the oldest ones, the ones most people no longer remember, say that my country, Cane, is one of those forgotten places, hidden away in some cosmic pocket of existence, for the most part separated from the human world, but not entirely. Tenuous links connect the two worlds--like certain traveling songs and hidden doorways, and magic, if you're able to use it.
   Not everyone in Cane believes that legend, though. Why would they? Their world is their world, and why would there be another? Most commonfolk don't like to think about unsettling things. Doing so disrupts their feeling that they are quite wise, thank you very much, or at least wise enough to get by, to have nice meals and a warm bed at the end of the day, and to know that there are no other worlds besides their own.
   But I knew better.
(Page 2, US Hardcover Edition)



I am going to start out this review by talking about what a huge fan I am of The Nutcracker. Even as an adult, I am never in the proper Christmas spirit until I've gone onto Youtube and found this old school animated film called The Nutcracker Prince. I've seen the ballet, I've read E.T.A Hoffmann's book, I have seen so many intriguing retellings of this tale.

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.

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG15 ( kissing; innuendo/sexual discovery, but nothing explicit )
Language: PG13 ( mild; sexual innuendo )
Violence: PG15 ( fighting, battle death [sometimes violent]; torture )
Other:  ( An older man has an obsessive interest in Clara in "her" world; Clara's father is often drunk; the use of Sugar, which is like a drug; at one point, Clara takes refuge in a pleasure house )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

This one is really nice to look at in person; a computer doesn't do this cover justice! There is a metallic shine to the book that adds to its icy air and suits the mood so well. It's great!

Can you see some of the metallic shine on the cover?
Pulled from Claire Legrand's Tumblr as a reblog!

Also adding to the feeling of cold I get looking at this cover is the shrug on the model's shoulders...WHY is she not wearing long sleeves? Brrr! I also get a hint of danger when I look at this; it's not everyday you see someone holding a knife like that...while being so innocently dressed!

Dark. Innocent. Creepy. Dangerous. Yep, this cover reflects the story well!

There's also a beautiful map inside. Here's a full-color rendition:

From an interview designer Catherine Scully did on Publishing Crawl
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Claire Legrand
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Received: Purchased

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.