Let’s ignore the fact that the girl on the cover looks exactly like Peyton Sawyer, shall we?
Seventeen-year-old Clara Stole hasn’t had the best life – what with having a father who’s a Mafia boss in 19th century New York, a mother who’s been brutally murdered and a sleazy doctor who’s been after her for years. Her only source of comfort are her mysterious combat training sessions with Godfather Drosselmeyer and a statue of a handsome man in his shop that causes Clara to have thoughts she’s been taught to hate. But on Christmas Eve of 1900, Clara’s house is attacked by brutal warriors who look like rats, her father disappears, and the statue comes to life. Turns out the statue is none other than Prince Nicholas of Cane, a magical land invaded by the cruel Queen Anise and the faeries. As Clara, her father, Nicholas and Godfather Drosselmeyer run away from the Faery warriors and end up in Cane, all Clara can think about is getting back by the New Year’s Eve to save her sister from the sleazy Dr. Victor and finding her father who was kidnapped by the Faeries, not helping Nicholas get his throne back. Can Clara and Co get out of Cane in time or will the gang fall apart and betray each other? And is there more to Queen Anise that meets the eye?
I picked up “Winterspell” because I was interested in reading a retelling of “The Nutcracker” – one of my favourite Christmas tales by E.T.A. Goffman, adapted by Tchaikovsky into one of the most famous ballets in the world. Marketed as a “dark fairytale”, this book has unfortunately failed in keeping me engaged for at least 60% of it. It was very painful to read about how much abuse Clara was taking at the start and while her reaction to it was handled quite well by the author, and she does go through quite a bit of development, she’s not the kind of heroine I’m interested in reading. What I particularly disliked was how her sexual awakening was treated. I understand that sexuality is an important and a fascinating aspect of fairytales, but the way she was attracted to the statue was, quite frankly, off-putting to say the least; I’d even go as far as to say that it was creepy. And not in the cool fairytale kind.
I appreciated the backstory of the world of Cane written in the style of a Christmas fairytale – those bits were in fact Legrand’s best pieces of writing in the whole book. Unfortunately, therey were few and far between. The narrative didn’t really flow very well – I had to go back a couple of pages every few chapters to figue out what the hell Clara was up to. Clara’s narration was also not great in the first half of the book and it didn’t get much better except during the times she spent with the villain.
To be quite honest, the villain was the most interesting character, and generally the best part of the book. She reminded me a little of Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles (without the raping a guy for a year part thankfully). She was a very interesting character with a compelling backstory that could’ve been explored more. I’m not hesitating in saying that this villain was wasted on a book like “Winterspell” and I almost stopped reading when she died. I don’t normally appreciate queer characters getting killed off, and in this case, I was particularly disappointed to see a bisexual villain die when she had so much potential.
However, a compelling villain and mildly atmospheric writing weren’t enough to make up for a heroine I didn’t like, a love interest that was creepy but otherwise completely bland and poorly handled sexual themes. The only things I recognised from “The Nutcracker” were the heroine’s name, the rat soldiers and a statue who turns into a man. The German words randomly scattered across the text don’t count – they were there for literally no reason other than because the original story is in German I’m afraid “Winterspell” has failed to enchant me, and my rating is 6/10. I suggest sticking with the original story or better yet, seeing the ballet.
“All Lady mages were girls at one point, weren’t they? And I bet few of ’em ever planned any assassinations.”
“Like an architect dropped into a world of infinite awareness and infinite possibilities, she felt an urge to explore and create.”
Clara Stole – Cara Delevigne
Nicholas – Armie Hammer
Bo – Amandla Stenberg
Anise – Michellle Williams
You might like “Winterspell” if you liked:
“The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer
“Iron Fey” by Julie Kagawa
“Into the Woods”
Have you read “Winterspell”? What are your favourite fairytale retellings? Please let me know 🙂