[A quick note: This was a cover buy. I saw it, saw the ballerina and winter landscape, and HAD to have it. I didn’t even read the synopsis. Like with most cover buys, I dove right in, especially after reading a friend’s review. Plus, I was in the mood for winter/Christmassy reads. I did NOT realize that this was an “adult” fantasy. That doesn’t mean it’s got sex. There was one scene but it was mild. It just means that it was more of a “general audience” fantasy. I honestly think it felt more like an upper YA fantasy to me.]
“𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐟𝐭𝐞𝐫 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐝𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐦𝐬 𝐢𝐬 𝐚 𝐩𝐞𝐜𝐮𝐥𝐢𝐚𝐫 𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐬𝐮𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠; 𝐢𝐭 𝐢𝐬 𝐧𝐨𝐭 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐰𝐞𝐚𝐤-𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐨𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐝𝐥𝐲-𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝. 𝐈𝐭 𝐫𝐞𝐪𝐮𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐬 𝐝𝐞𝐞𝐩 𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐭𝐡 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐝𝐞𝐭𝐞𝐫𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧.” —M.A. Kuzniar
Marietta loves ballet more than anything, but her father is forcing her to give it up. Her final performance will be Sleeping Beauty on Christmas Day. Months before the performance, a mysterious guest moves into the townhouse across the street. Dr. Drosselmeier has everyone talking. With his unique toys and wondrous mechanisms, he wins over the Stelle family. Well, everyone except Marietta. When she refuses to marry him, he punishes her. In an attempt to escape him, she flees into the elaborate set he’s crafted. At the stroke of midnight, the door in the grandfather clock leads her to another world—to Everwood. This wintery world is filled with sugary delights, but dripping with danger. She becomes trapped by the evil King Gelum. Captain Legat might be her only hope of escape, but he’s got secrets of his own, and there’s a lot more at stake that just Marietta’s freedom.
Nutcracker meets Narnia in this dark tale about friendship, sacrifice, and following your dreams. This was the perfect winter read. I thought it was going to be Christmassy, but it can be read at any time. The plot, world building, characters, and fairytale feel were all perfection! I wasn’t expecting it to have dark themes, but I really liked that aspect. In fact, I did not even realized it was categorized as “adult fantasy.” And yet, it definitely felt like upper YA, which was fine.
I loved the world building! The atmospheric setting was one of my favorite aspects. We start out in England, 1906, but are later transported to Everwood. The winter vibes were chef’s kiss, paired with a city that is basically made out of gingerbread and sugary sweets, and you’re transported. When Marietta escapes Dr. Drosselmeier by fleeing into a grandfather clock, she finds herself in a dangerous snowy forest. She’s saved by Captain Legat, who appears to be a hard, unforgiving man, and taken to the sugary palace. In time, she learns that Legat has deeper secrets and is heading up a rebellion to overthrow a sadistic king.
This same sadistic king, Gelum, notices Marietta and captures her. He likes collecting unique things. A ballerina from another world? He’s enamored. He makes her dance every night, even if she’s injured, forcing her onward. And when she refuses him? He starves her for weeks on end. I loved that being forced to dance didn’t destroy her love of ballet. I was nervous that it would.
I adore books with ballet, btw. This was full of it. Marietta’s passion for ballet saturates the pages.
The toys from the Nutcracker tale are realized as King Gelum’s “faceless guards,” which was really cool! Overall, there weren’t a ton of parallels to the nutcracker ballet, so I wouldn’t call it a “retelling,” but there were enough vibes to satisfy. From Drosselmeier, to the toys, the mice, the sugary delights, the snowy forest, the magic, and the transportive aspect at midnight. On that note, I never did find out why the mice? Why the obsession with the little white mice, and the mouse insignia, etc.
The strong female friendship that blossoms between Marietta (who never allows herself to get close to anyone) and the other women who are stolen by Gelum, was wonderful. I loved the way they banded together against their enemy. These women became Marietta’s found family. Each had her own tragic story in how they were captured, and they bonded over this.
Romance? There was definitely romance. It was sweet but it wasn’t the forefront of the story. I also wasn’t riveted by it as I’d hoped. Legat and Marietta begin to know each other, and at first, she strongly dislikes him for the king he serves. When the king starves her, he secretly ensures she stays alive by sneaking her away and feeding her. My only disappointment was in the ending (their relationship, since I loved the overall ending of the story). It wasn’t exactly a happily ever after since Legat and Marietta were from different worlds and couldn’t be together permanently. But…it was still sweet.
Finally? Marietta’s arc was transformative. When the story starts, she’s afraid to stand up for what she loves. Her father is going to take Ballet away from her, and she can’t really stand up to Drosselmeier. But in the end, once she’s defeated a king, she has learned her strength. She is able to stand up to both Drosselmeier and her family. She is able to actualize her dreams. I LOOOVED that.
This was a lovely read. The only reason it didn’t get five stars is because it didn’t quite hit that mark. I was not obsessively thinking about it whenever I set it down. I didn’t devour it quickly like I tend to do with five star reads. But it did leave a mark and I do highly recommend it as a winter read.
𝐌𝐘 𝐑𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐍𝐆: 𝟒.𝟓/𝟓⭐️