Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Review: Winterspell

WINTERSPELL
Winterspell #1
Claire Legrand
Young Adult/Fantasy/Retelling
464 pages
Simon & Schuster
Available Now
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
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.


MY THOUGHTS
Winterspell is a darker story than the stunning cover with its whimsical font suggests, a world of mechanical monsters waiting in the shadows to reach out and drag us kicking and screaming to a faery queen who forces us to emotionally balance on the line between sympathy and fear. Ms. Legrand has a gift for detailed world building, the New York of 1899 as rich and easy to picture as the rapidly deteriorating world of Cane, the beauty and the ugliness of both cities carefully laid out for us, as strikingly full of contrasts as the characters who inhabit them.

Clara is a young woman easy to both like and dislike, her ability to keep a level head no matter what human or supernatural threat she faces something we readily admire, but the darker side of human nature also takes up residence right alongside all that makes her shine. While that may sound like a criticism, it is in fact a compliment to Ms. Legrand for writing a young woman who reflects not only the strengths of humanity in her courage and loyalty to those she loves, but also the flaws, the shadowed corners of ourselves we know exist but don't necessarily like to acknowledge. It's so easy to root for the characters who, in fiction, have the ability to make all the choices we wish we might make in the same situation–to be heroes and badasses who save the day with our fearlessness and cunning. Clara is not always that person though, instead she often allows fear to get the better of her–choosing self-preservation over self-sacrifice–and though we might like to blame her for not being a better person in that moment, deep down in those places we don't speak of, we can't help but admit to the unsavory realism of her choices.

The true beauty of Clara and her oh-so familiar flaws though is that, in crafting her as she does, Ms. Legrand gives her room to grow, to recognize that she is not currently the woman she wants to be and therefore expend the effort to change her course. She often lashes out when hurt and seeks to hurt in return, something we're all guilty of at one time or another, but on the whole she handles moments of heightened emotion extremely well, never flying off into hysterics when an ugly truth is revealed or creating drama where there doesn't need to be any. Rather, she absorbs the blow and tucks a sliver of hope that what she's seen or heard isn't what it seems deep down inside for closer examination later.

While Clara is a character of nuance and depth and the world of dark fantasy she finds herself caught up in is truly fascinating, the story does plod along rather slowly despite a not-insignificant number of epic battle scenes and romantically tense situations. Though we enjoy all the characters and recognize in them the type of layers it's an absolute joy to pull back and spend precious hours examining, there's something vital missing to fully connect us to Clara and Nicholas on an emotional level. There are select moments with each of them where we swear we can feel that connection pulsing, but it's often there and gone again before we can grasp it fully, leaving us a touch more removed from the plight of human, faery and mage as they fight to exist in a world free of a life-threatening prejudice than we'd otherwise like to be.

Rating: 3.5/5
 

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This book was sent to me by the publisher free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my honest opinion.

41 comments:

  1. I'm really happy to hear you liked this one a lot too, Jenny!
    I loved the world of Cane and I loved Clara to bits, she felt so real and so understandable afraid even when she wanted to be brave! I felt like Anise and Nicholas both were what Clara needed to grown into who she always wanted to be.
    Btw, did you read Summerfall? If you haven't I highly recommend you do, it's wonderful to see how Cane was before the war and it's amazing the character development it has for a novella!

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    1. I haven't read Summerfall, I really need to do that! This world was definitely fascinating. And so much darker than I was expecting!

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  2. I think you liked it better than me. I really had a big big problem with the book and it's the first time I feel like that. It really wasn't a good one for me.

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    1. I had some trouble with a few things, but overall I did really like Clara and the world-building:)

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  3. I started this one, Jenny, but got weirded out by Clara's attraction to a statue. I've given up on it for now but do plan on returning to it at some point. Hopefully, it's going to get less awkward.

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    1. That was a little awkward to be sure, but I'm pretty good at glossing over things like that since I knew there was an actual guy in there somewhere ;-)

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  4. Ohh, I would be very interested in getting to know Clara and witnessing her growth firsthand. I recently stumbled upon a character that grew tremendously in the story (Britt in Black Ice, actually) and I really enjoyed her development. I have a feeling I'd enjoy Clara's character just as much. i don't mind the slower plot as long as the rest is to my liking. I should definitely give this one a try.

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    1. I quite enjoyed Clara Maja! I liked that she wasn't likeable every moment, she made some selfish choices that were completely human and understandable:)

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  5. I just started this one last night and I am not sure. I love the Nutcracker and was hoping for a really compelling retelling, but the fact that you said you couldn't connect to Clara and Nicholas' relationship very well has me worried. I'll still give it a try, but I hope things pick up a bit. Thanks for the honest review.

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    1. It was a tricky one to get into for me as well Christina, and it was definitely slow at times, but I liked Clara and the various layers to her I got to see:)

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  6. I started this one and I don't know what I expected but it wasn't this. I just couldn't get into the book. And yes, I read until where Nicholas was introduced but I didn't feel their connection either.
    I'm glad you still liked it. :)
    Lovely review.

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    1. It was much darker than I expected too Nick! I for some reason thought it would be a lighter fantasy but I was mistaken ;) I liked the darkness of it, I just couldn't emotionally connect as much as I wanted to.

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  7. Gabrielle read and reviewed this one because, well, faeries. >.< She absolutely loved it, but ... *shrug* I'm sorry it wasn't amazing for you.

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  8. Epic battles and slow pacing just seems like an oxymoron to me, and it sounds like the characters were almost awesome, but not quite which is disappointing. The mechanical monsters sound kind of Steampunk-ish though, and that cover is a looker. I'll await the verdict on book 2 before I decide.

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    1. I know, it was strange. Things were definitely happening, but I didn't always feel like they were happening. The tension and the anticipation and the fear wasn't there when I wanted it to be.

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  9. I am happy to hear that this was good
    GREAT review deary
    your reader,
    Soma
    http://insomnia-of-books.blogspot.com.tr/

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  10. Your reviews are always so beautiful and well said Jenny!

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  11. I'm reading this one as I write this so I just skimmed over your review. Still I'm excited to see how it will go.

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    1. I'll be interested to see what you think Savy!

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  12. Not for me but after reading the review I think perfect for my friend's daughter. She has now added fairytale retellings to her reading :) YEAH

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    1. YAY RETELLINGS! I can't get enough of them:)

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  13. I keep wavering on this one. I am interested in it, but the reviews are mixed. I am disappointed to hear that the romance didn't quite deliver and that you didn't get the connection you were looking for. I will have to consider this a little longer, right now, I am leaning toward skipping it.

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    1. It's probably one that can wait Heidi. I enjoyed it well enough, but it's a thick book and slow moving at times, so it took me a bit longer to get through.

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  14. I haven't heard of this book until today! It sounds so good and it reminds me of TID with the clockwork creatures and I have to say they scare most of all in most novels or even TV programs like Dr Who. LOL. I can't wait to read this, the fantasy world and darker elements sounds amazing. Lovely review, Jenny! :)

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    1. Glad I could put it on your radar Emma!

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  15. Honestly I never expected this one too be darker. I expected it to be actually a light read. Boy, I couldn't be more wrong. Anyhow it seems like a really great story, with interesting characters and great idea, but you're right when you don't connect with the character emotionally it's hard to fully enjoy the story. Great review, Jenny :)

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    1. Right? I thought it might have darker moments, but it was quite a bit grittier than I expected going in. Not a bad thing though, just a surprise!

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  16. I'm really curious about this one, Jenny, since I found out it's a retelling of the Nutcracker. I do like the dark aspects of the book, but I'm a little disappointed that the romance isn't as strong. Still I'd like to check this book out.

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    1. I had hoped for more from the romance Rummanah. I wanted to really root for them, and I never quite got there.

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  17. I think it's most cruel when that connection is just out of reach--nearly there but not quite--and it's so frustrating, as a reader, to have to experience that. Not sure I can handle that with this novel, though I have heard many positives about it as well. Thanks for such an honest review, Jenny--beautifully written as always! :)

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  18. I do love stories with positive character growth but it's disappointing to hear it was difficult to connection with Clara and Nicholas on an emotional level. Romance is such a big part of the story to me. Wonderful review, Jenny! :)

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  19. I've been pretty curious about this one. I'm not sure I can read it any time soon, but I'll definitely have to consider picking up a copy. It sounds pretty dark, but that might be okay. :)

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  20. Yeah, I've often done the lashing out bit so I try to cut characters slack when they do it so, even though she does it sometimes, I'm pretty impressed that she can quietly absorb the strange circumstances, too!

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  21. You always wirte wuch beautiful and insightful reviews. I can't wait to read this one and am glad to know it is a dark story. I wonder if I would appreciate Clara as a character. The cover, of course, is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing!! :D

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  22. This is one that I've read very split reviews on. People not connecting at all, and some people loving the story. I'm continuing to lean to thinking it's not for me. The strange love triangle is definitely a factor, and the slowness of the building plot. Though maybe I'll revisit it again sometime. I like that Clara grows up, and I enjoy historical fantasy and love that it's a Nutcracker retelling. But I'm still worried that this wouldn't be for me. I really want to see that connection between the leads.

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  23. I agree this book definitely had its slow moments, particularly in the beginning for me. I ended up really loving it, but it seems like a lot of people had trouble connecting fully with Clara and Nicholas. I'm glad you (mostly) enjoyed it in spite of the issues you had with the pace and connection to the characters. Lovely thoughtful review!

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