Published by Simon and Schuster on September 30, 2014
Genres: fairy tale, fantasy
Pages: 464 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • 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.
There’s nothing better than a retelling that manages to take a fairytale we all think we know and completely turn it on its head. Winterspell is completely original, while still staying true to its Nutcracker roots. It is a very dark, and very beautiful story.
There were a lot of things I loved about this story, but probably my favorite is that author Claire Legrand is very good at capturing the shades of grey in every character. There is no character who is all good or all bad. Everyone has nuance. Everyone does great and terrible things.
There are just too many great things I can say about this book. This is a must read for anyone who likes dark fantasy and the grittier side of fairytales. And, it’s a stand-alone, so no terrible cliffhangers!
We’re happy to have Claire Legrand at The Midnight Garden today as part of the official blog tour with Rockstar Book Tours. She’s going to tell us about her childhood fascination with The Nutcracker and how it influenced the story of Winterspell.
The Nutcracker and Winterspell
By Claire LeGrand
Let me first tell you that I don’t know much about ballet.
I do know some things. For example, I know that first position is when you stand with your heels together and your toes pointing out, creating as close to a straight line as possible. I know that George Balanchine is a big deal; turnout is an even bigger one. A pas de bourrée is . . . something. I know the term, but I couldn’t tell you what it means without looking up the term. I just like saying it, to be honest. pah-de-boo-RAY, pah-de-boo-RAY!
I don’t know the names of many famous ballerinas, or of many ballets beyond the standard fare that have bled into general pop culture consciousness, like Swan Lake and, yes, The Nutcracker.
But I do know this—when I watch a ballet, I feel.
Ballet is an art of dichotomy. The beauty of the movement, and the pain its dancers can experience as they perform. Creativity and rigid discipline. The athletic and the ethereal. There’s something primal, even triumphant, about an art form so dependent on the human body. Yes, dancers are typically accompanied by music, but you don’t go to the ballet to listen to the orchestra. You go to watch these people use their bodies as instruments—to inspire, to convey feeling. To tell a story. At the ballet, you don’t need words to know when someone is hurting, when someone is in love, when someone yearns. As a writer, whose world is words, I find that idea liberating.
When I was a kid, however, the appeal was simpler than that. I didn’t analyze; I just watched, dazed, as these otherworldly creatures twirled and soared, moving their arms in that peculiar fashion—their fingers curled just so, the lines of their arms perfectly poised and straight, except for that delicate turn at the wrist. Mine was a visceral love. I adored the physicality of it, the controlled power. I watched a ballet and spent the rest of the day leaping clumsily about the house, searching within myself, within the movement of my uncooperative body, for even a glimpse of the beauty I had just witnessed. I ached for it.
Really, I should say, “I watched the ballet,” for as a child, I only ever watched one—The Nutcracker.
Every year, during the holidays, my mother and I tuned in to PBS to watch one of two Nutcracker productions—the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker: The Motion Picture and the American Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and his real-life paramour Gelsey Kirkland. The latter production ended up amusing me more than anything; Kirkland is talented and lovely, but her wide-eyed, innocent Clara left me cold. Mom and I dubbed her “the pitiful girl,” and that particular production “the pitiful girl version.”
But the other production, performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, enchanted me. There was something surreal about it. The sets, designed by Maurice Sendak, are exquisite at first glance—and then, when you look more closely, become bizarre, even grotesque (much like the original fairy tale). Then there is the mysterious Godfather Drosselmeyer, who in this production is sinister and troubling, obsessed with Clara in ways that made my child self fascinated and confused. And then there is Clara herself—not wide-eyed and innocent, but curious, determined. She feels things. She yearns for adulthood, for romance, for a graceful, poised body rather than her awkward, gangly 12-year-old one.
And she gets it. At the end of the first act, she transforms into a woman. She travels to a beautiful but dangerous land, where the citizens must dance on command and toothy creatures leer from a palace’s painted walls. She falls in love. She becomes herself, the Clara she has always wished she could be. She must make an impossible choice.
“What is going on here?” child-me wondered, wanting to understand, wanting to hold onto the strangeness of this story as if it were a real, physical thing to treasure and hide, something to take out only for myself to enjoy. On cold December nights, I watched this ballet and wished desperately for snow—a mostly futile wish, growing up in Texas. Even more than that, I wished for a Christmas like Clara’s. One of mystery and danger, clocks chiming midnight and monsters creeping along the floorboards. One of love and jealousy, obsession and magic, and impossible beauty.
I’m not sure I’ll ever experience something like that in real life, and I probably wouldn’t want to. Real-life Claire likes her holidays cozy, lazy, warm—and preferably filled with cookies, not monsters.
So for the child Claire who watched that strange, dark Nutcracker with her face inches from the screen, ecstatic and unnerved, her heart in knots, her mind electric with wonder—for her, who always wanted an adventurous, frightening, magical Christmas—I wrote Winterspell.
I hope you enjoy it as much as she has.
About the Author
Claire Legrand is the author of books for children and teens, including The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, The Year of Shadows, the upcoming Winterspell, and its prequel, Summerfall. She is also one of the four authors of The Cabinet of Curiosities.
When not writing books, she can be found obsessing over DVD commentaries, going on long walks (or trying to go on long runs), and speaking with a poor English accent to random passersby. She thinks musicians and librarians are the loveliest of folks (having been each of those herself) and, while she loves living in central New Jersey, she dearly misses her big, brash, beautiful home state of Texas.
Her work is represented by Diana Fox of Fox Literary, LLC. Visit her online: Website/Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads/Pinterest/Tumblr