Book Review: Winterspell

Published By: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Page Count: 464
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Young Adult - Fantasy

I have been looking forward to reading this one for months. I knew that I had to work it in to my November schedule because The Nutcracker is one of my favorite holiday stories. As a kid, I loved the whimsical mysticism of the ballet. I've never read the story by Hoffman, but I do plan to remedy that this December. I was ecstatic to see that a YA author was using The Nutcracker as inspiration for her story. I had such high hopes going in, but I soon learned that Winterspell was nothing like what I had expected. This was both good and bad; I have the taste of mixed feelings lingering on my reading pallet. 

First, let's get the things I didn't love about this one out of the way. I was expecting holiday magic, romance, and magical lands. The holiday magic was nonexistent - yes, the story takes place around Christmas and New Year's, but it has very little to do with the actual plot. The only holiday trimming that makes an appearance is snow. There is none of the hopeful Christmas Eve magic that I loved from the original. This is not The Nutcracker of my childhood, but rather a dark and sensual loosely connected tale.

The sensual aspect was off putting for me. I don't think of myself as a reading prude, but this one just felt more adult than YA in many segments. There are so many nude moments. The people of Cane are far more liberal with their attire and thoughts on modesty than I. It wouldn't have irked me so much if it had a been a rare occasion, but it became a recurring theme. Perhaps Legrand was seeking to make a statement on how people should appreciate and value their bodies. I just found the aspect to be more annoying than thought provoking. I also felt like this story had more sexual tension than it needed. The main character spends half the story lusting for a statue turned hot guy and another portion battling with feelings for an evil queen. It made it difficult for me to truly support any romantic entanglements.

Furthermore, I found the land of Cane to be intriguing, but not some place I wanted to spend a lot of time. The streets are full of crime and prostitution. The citizens of Cane are addicted to sugar which is akin to drugs in our world. I couldn't help but have a running commentary on diabetes and obesity playing through my mind every time someone needed a sugar fix. I couldn't decide if this aspect was creative, a rant on the current health crisis in the United States, or just a clever allusion.

I have a strong sentimental attachment to the original story - I fully admit that, but I am not opposed to authors forging a new path through familiar territory. Creativity lends to changing the familiar literary landmarks. I applaud Legrand for the journey she created; the nuances of her version are creative and well developed. I was impressed by the quality of Legrand's writing as well. Her words left bruises on my heart and dark images on my mind. 

I did love the characters in this one. They are all flawed and broken in so many ways. At times, it was difficult to determine who was good and who was bad. The moral ambiguity created lovely shades of gray that kept me guessing. Claire, in spite of her faults, is a remarkable heroine who has left an imprint on me. I loved that throughout the story she evolved into a force to be reckoned with. In addition, I also loved Nicholas, Bo, and Godfather. The relationships in this novel, while complicated, were also intriguing. I did find the whole fantasizing about a statue thing to be odd, but I pushed aside my feelings and allowed myself to drift along with the plot.

I also loved the various races of people in Cane. The humans, mages, and fairies, like the main characters in the novel, were a combination of good and evil. Each group harbored deep prejudices against the others. The mistrust and discrimination cause a Civil War to rage throughout the land of Cane. The victorious fairies control the land with an iron fist. The historian side of me immediately began to make comparisons to other instances were the victors have unleashed horrible treatment against others because of their differences.

There were moments in this novel that kept me glued to my Kindle and my heart pounding. I found these segments to be highly enjoyable, but there were also moments that I longed to skim so I could get to a more appealing part. This balance between loving the novel and not loving the novel made it difficult to review and rate. I feel like there is a lot of potential in this one and many will love it, but the violence, sexual tension, and darkness kept this from becoming one of my favorites. 

One Last Gripe: I know that I was supposed to feel some sort of sympathy for Anise, but I couldn't muster any. I didn't enjoy the segment of the novel at the Summer Kingdom at all.

Favorite Things About The Book: I loved watching Clara learn about herself and uncover hidden secrets. I also loved Nicholas telling his story.

First Sentence: Our stories say that when the human world was first made, not all of it fit.

Favorite Character: Godfather

Least Favorite Character: Anise

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 nothuman. 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 NutcrackerWinterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.