12 Days of Giving: Reviewing WINTERSPELL by Claire Legrand

Love fairy tales and mythology?
Fans of mermaids, dragons, unicorns, and other mythical creatures?
Enjoy when a beloved classic tale is retold?
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On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... 
The Nutcracker in a book!

One of the most buzzed about new books this fall has been WINTERSPELL by Claire Legrand, which uses elements from The Nutcracker to create a dark new world.

It's the perfect book to read this holiday season. To me, nutcrackers are a huge symbol of the holidays!

(And, okay, I KNOW today isn't Thursday, so this shouldn't get the Twist banner BUT tomorrow, I have a blog tour stop and didn't want to slam you with two reviews in one day, so...! Forgive me?)

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)

We all know about The Nutcracker, thanks to its holiday prominence on TV or at a local ballet theatre each year. But did you know that Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky based his ballet off of a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann entitled The Nutcracker and the Mouse King? Some elements are the same, while others are vastly different. Likewise, Claire Legrand has taken some aspects of the tale and woven them into something completely new when weaving the tale of WINTERSPELL, the latest adaptation of this classic tale.

Clara Stole has big shoes to fill now that her beloved mother has been murdered. Her father is the mayor and the family has to appear to be holding it together for Concordia. But many of the officials are corrupt, and after Clara overhears a plan to assassinate her father by New Year's, she's blackmailed into silence. When Godfather Drosselmeyer's statue transforms into a flesh-and-blood prince, Clara begins a terrifying journey to the world of Cane. In Cane, Nicholas is a dethroned prince, and the world has been taken over by Anise the Fairy Queen. Anise will stop at nothing to destroy Nicholas and keep her throne, but after capturing Clara, the game changes. Clara no longer knows up from down or truth from fiction. All she wants to do is save her father and sister from their deadly fates before it's too late. But what if saving her family means giving up everything else?

There is so much going on in WINTERSPELL that it's hard to talk about many elements without spoilers. Those expecting a direct retelling of The Nutcracker may be disappointed, but the way the retelling is nuanced and layered into the story works very well. The world also takes on steampunk tendencies at times, and feels dark and new; much, much darker than the light, happy world Clara visits in the ballet version of the tale. The "Sugarplum Fairy," for example, is not sweetness and light. Instead, she's deadly and iron-fisted. She distributes sugar (Get it? Sugar?) to all of Cane's inhabitants, addicting them with no way out, even as she beats them down for being human. Legrand also has a way of making readers feel sympathetic toward Anise, even as they spend time hating her. Likewise, their thoughts towards characters are likely as volatile as Clara's. Who can be trusted? What is truth? This imbalance is handled well. Even Prince Nicholas comes under close scrutiny thanks to his quest to reclaim the throne at all costs. Even Clara's beloved Godfather Drosselmeyer has been keeping secrets. It is up to Clara to uncover the truth and discover the best way to handle her newfound magical abilities in order to save her family. But what can one inexperienced mage do in the face of centuries-old magic?

Legrand has also written a prequel novella entitled SUMMERFALL. This takes long before WINTERSPELL ever begins. It centers around two characters whose tale is mentioned in passing in WINTERSPELL. You can read one before the other. If you read WINTERSPELL first, you'll know what's coming in SUMMERFALL, but if you read the novella first, you'll go into the world blind and let the story take you on its journey with no preconceived ideas. Either way, the order is up to you!

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: For Review 
(But the version read was my purchased copy)

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.