Winterspell by Claire Legrand Review
It has always been a trend to rewrite old fairy tales into newer, modern, or even futuristic ages, and Legrand takes a chance at the old Nutcracker tale with her novel, Winterspell.
While the ideas are fresh and innovative, and the story itself very capturing, there are certain instances where the execution of the story could have been improved upon.
Clara, The Protagonist
Clara Stole is the mayor's daughter who has secretly been training with her Godfather to defend herself ever since her mother, Hope Stole, was brutally and mysteriously murdered.
Clara is confusing at times, as she is a nervous, anxious girl who seems to just flip on a switch and find her boldness from somewhere deep within. Throughout the beginning of the story, it's hard to believe, since she seems scared of practically everything and everyone, yet bold enough to fight mystical creatures she's never seen or heard of before, yet not bold enough to land a punch at the man who has been perverse towards her and practically threatens to rape her and her sister.
So at the beginning, Clara isn't very relatable, because the reader isn't really able to get a grasp on what, or who, exactly, she is. Later on, her personality becomes somewhat clearer, though her motives still remain odd.
The oddest moment of all, perhaps, is near the beginning after the statue that she apparently groped and hugged and kissed when her Godfather wasn't looking turns into a human. Clara finds something out about her Godfather, and takes the statue-turned-human's hand and jumps through a portal after her drunken, idiotic father--leaving her innocent little sister alone with the conniving, evil Patricia Plum and the creepy Dr. Victor.
Now, while the information she finds out about her Godfather is devastating, when faced with the decision to jump out a window that might lead to a magical portal with an unknown man who used to be a statue after her practically useless dad, leaving her sister with two evil people, or going with Godfather and taking her sister and running, leaving behind the entire situation, the obvious choice would be the latter--wouldn't it?
But Clara is all too ready to jump into the portal with the statue, Nicholas, because there's just "something about him that seems familiar."
Later on, though, Clara begins to find herself and her courage. Though at first she is intolerably frail, during her adventures, she begins to find her strength and becomes a much more interesting character.
As alluded to before, the beginning was a part some may struggle to get through. Incidents happen too suddenly, motivations are too muddled, and altogether it's just hard to believe. 100 pages in, there is still no explanation as to why Clara's mother was killed, who the statue guy Nicholas really is, and why creatures are attacking her and her Godfather--in other words, the reader still hasn't been told why they should care about what happens to the characters.
Clara isn't immediately likable enough to catch attention despite having all of these mysteries. Not explaining the simple things immediately and having such a weak protagonist is a turn off. It would have been better to have as much information as possible and proceed with the action, or simply have Clara be described in ways that were less pathetic.
There were places that kept the story going, though. Despite flaws, the reader wants to know what happens with Dr. Victor, and if Clara every knocks him out as he deserves, so they keep reading. The pacing is relatively good, though there are a few parts that slow down right after the action, and take away from the momentum of the story. These are mostly the moments where Clara takes a long time to reflect on herself.
Obviously the story is about Clara coming into herself and becoming more confident in herself and her abilities, but the story would have gone along fine if you were to cut, say, half of her inner dialogue and simply let her actions speak for her.
The biggest turn off of the book is the action sequences. They happen very suddenly, which was fine except that the descriptions during these scenes is very vague, so the reader almost never knows where anyone is during these scenes.
For example, Clara and Nicholas are attacked by evil faery robots and everyone is running and it's utter chaos. He pulls her up on the ladder, which apparently everyone is crowding to get up, but then they're face to face and he takes a moment to cradle her face.
Gravity and the havoc of the scene don't match up, and little moments like these throughout take away the momentum and general feel of urgency from the novel.
In general, description was lacking. Until almost halfway through the book, there's a lack of description for scenery, people (other than clothing), and complete actions. After that, scenery descriptions do get better, though the emphasis on clothing descriptions rather than facial descriptions is rather off-putting, and gives the reader vague veiled blobs to envision rather than actual people.
All in all, while this book wouldn't end up on my personal favorites, if readers like action, romance, and following a main character's adventure to finding themselves and their courage in a mystical land of faeries and technology, this would be a great choice.