Author: Claire Legrand
No. of Pages: 464
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Origins: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 30 September 2014
Bottom Line: Creative, strong, entertaining, and romantic
“After her mother is brutally murdered, seventeen-year-old Clara Stole is determined to find out what happened to her. Her father, a powerful man with little integrity, is a notorious New York City gang lord in the syndicate-turned-empire called Concordia. And he isn’t much help.
But there is something even darker than Concordia’s corruption brewing under the surface of the city, something full of vengeance and magic, like the stories Clara’s godfather used to tell her when she was a little girl. Then her father is abducted and her little sister’s life is threatened, and Clara accidentally frees Nicholas from a statue that has been his prison for years. Nicholas is the rightful prince of Cane, a wintry kingdom that exists beyond the city Clara has known her whole life.
When Nicholas and Clara journey together to Cane to retrieve her father, Clara encounters Anise, the queen of the faeries, who has ousted the royal family in favor of her own totalitarian, anti-human regime. Clara finds that this new world is not as foreign as she feared, but time is running out for her family, and there is only so much magic can do…”
Thoughts: It is easy to recognize certain elements of the original Nutcracker story. There are the prince, the creepy godfather and the girl. There are battles, magical lands, and plenty of sugar. This all makes Winterspell one of those novels that is fun with its creative use of the familiar.
However, it is in the differences where Winterspell really works its magic. For, these are not your ordinary faeries. Ms. Legrand turns the Fae legends on its head with her version. They are still magical beings and impossibly beautiful, but they also love iron. In fact, their use of magic revolves around iron and mechanics. It is the humans who want to avoid the use of metal and technology – a complete turnaround from every fairy story in existence.
If that were not enough, the mages – a completely different species in the Winterspell world – are subjects of the humans. Witches and wizards do not reign but are submissive and servants of the royal family. Again, this is an unusual twist in which the nonmagical beings are the ones with all of the power and influence.
These changes are not damaging to the story in the least. In fact, they add a bright light of anticipation and keep readers on their toes. Because of these changes, readers will not know what to expect; the rules of the two fantasy characters are so different. The entire story is intriguing and absorbing because of these differences, especially when viewed alongside the skeletal remnants of the Nutcracker story.
For everything that happens within the story, and there is a lot that happens, one thing Ms. Legrand does not neglect is her character development. Anise may appear to be the evil faery ruler, but there is an emotional side that Clara and the readers get to see. It softens her edges and makes her somewhat sympathetic in nature. Similarly, Nicholas may be the dashing, handsome prince, but he has a dark side and even darker past. One wants to love the second part of the love story but cannot do it completely because there is too much gray area surrounding him. Then there is Clara. At first weak in mind if not in spirit and body, she blossoms into a true heroine. She never loses the emotional tendencies of a teenage girl, but she does prove she has the mettle to be a formidable opponent for anyone.
As the characters grow, interact, and change some more, readers are left watching and waiting. There are some aspects of the story that are inevitable; it is a fairy tale after all and a romantic one at that. However, the characters are all unpredictable and therefore capable of anything. There will be a happy ending, naturally, but what that will be never becomes clear until the very end. Similarly, there is a love story inherent in The Nutcracker, but again, these are not the traditional characters and anyone could end up living happily ever after with anyone else. To that end, it is a fascinating story to experience, as readers must accept the very unfamiliar with the familiar and understand that this is not a traditional fairy tale in the grand scheme of things.
Winterspell is one of those novels that is just pure entertainment. The action is intense, constant, and bloody. There are no mincing of words or beautification of the true issues occurring within Cane and New York. The backdrop is bleak and disturbing. Into these worlds step Clara and Nicholas, looking to not only save Clara’s father but also to right wrongs in both worlds. With them comes all of their past baggage, which adds a delicious layer of complication and uncertainty to the proceedings. The writing is simple but flows smoothly, and the story grabs a reader’s interest from the very beginning. It is a great story to sit down and enjoy and forget all about one’s own problems.