Following good stories wherever they lead
A bold re-imagining of The Nutcracker, this story crackles with magic and adventure, with a fair dose of deception and desire tossed into the mix.
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 mugs
If you’re in the mood for: An ornate adventure, with beautiful world-building and plenty of dark magic.
Clara knows that she isn’t brave.
She is strong, and clever — Godfather taught her how to fight, how to become one with the shadows, how to pick a lock in silence — but she rarely uses these attributes. As the daughter of the mayor in corrupt Concordia, Clara is expected to cower, and obey.
It isn’t her father terrorizing her, however. It’s her father’s handlers — the true power behind the office — Patricia Plum, Dr. Victor, and the grinning Merry Butcher. Their threats, and the memory of her mother’s mutilated body, keep Clara silent and afraid. She knows that otherwise she’ll be next. Or worse, her sister Felicity and her own father will be.
Clara only feels strong in those moments at Godfather’s shop, sparring or practicing her sneaking, listening to Godfather’s fantastic tales of faeries and magic. It’s all just a fancy — like Clara’s embarrassing attachment to that statue of a soldier in the corner. The one she can’t help but go over to greet, to tell him about her day, her hopes and fears. It’s childish and stupid. It’s only a statue.
But a reckoning is approaching in Clara’s airless life, and it’s going to tear the roof from the ballroom and swarm the stairs with clockwork creatures, as Clara discovers that magic and faeries and princes aren’t such childish nonsense after all.
Soon, she’ll be drawn into the middle of a war. And Clara is going to have to fight with everything she has to survive.
A twisty re-telling of The Nutcracker, this book is an excellent example of how to weave scenes with words and cast new lights on old familiar figures. The prose is lustrous and enchanting without losing its pace in the battle scenes — of which there are several. Characters are developed with an eye to relevance — the least-fleshed out are the ones with the sparsest stage time, to good effect. It allows for plenty of the spotlight to fall squarely where it should: on Clara, Godfather, the Prince and the Faery Queen.
Clara herself is firmly believable as a young woman wracked by fear and self-loathing; as strong as she is, she cannot fight the demons in her own mind that insist upon her weakness, her worthlessness. As frustrating as it is to the reader, Clara herself is equally embittered at her inability to fight — which makes her development all the more rewarding to see throughout the book.
The Prince is…well, not your Disney version. He is broken, and dangerous, and yet still hoping for something better, despite his simmering rage. His internal conflicts play out in a very believable way for someone raised in a war-torn country, by parents and advisers who cherished revenge above mercy.
Godfather is a polarizing character, for good reason, and his secrets are best revealed over time.
And the Faery Queen is a fatal surprise, far more tangled and compelling than a simple witch in fur robes. When she and Clara meet, the story takes a decided turn for the unexpected.
The world-building is a delight, a unique tangle of machines and magic and a devastating racial war that’s tearing the land apart — literally. Legrand weaves a new story out of old, shot through with iron and clockwork and music and magic. While it certainly isn’t innocent, if you’re in the mood for a slow, dark waltz, this might be your dancing partner.