Book Review: Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire

Everyone knows Drosselmeier as the mysterious toymaker and godfather to the Stahlbaum children who gifts them with a Nutcracker one Christmas Eve. From his childhood as a foundling in a forest, to his confusing teen and young adult years with different families in Germany, to his old age making toys for Klara, this book tells the story of his life.

Book Review: Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire | reading, books, book review, historical fantasy, fairy tales, retellings, The Nutcracker


It took a while for me to get into this book, but I enjoyed it in the end. It was an interesting take on the background of the The Nutcracker and the life of the mysterious toymaker Drosselmeier.

What made this book hard for me to get into was how meandering it was. It really was the story of Drosselmeier’s life, starting with his childhood, all the way through death. There was no real goal or stakes. But that was the nature of the book. It was meant to be more of a prequel than a retelling, the story of how Drosselmeier become a toymaker, how he came to make the Nutcracker, and how he became part of the Stahlbaum family. Despite being easy to put down at times, I did like the premise of getting to know the man and the background behind the famed Nutcracker. And there were some unexpected turns and parts of the story where I was more drawn in. By the end, I did want to keep reading.

I also liked Drosselmeier’s POV. He didn’t have a whole lot of personality, but it was in a way that made sense and seemed to suit him… which probably doesn’t make sense to anyone reading this review. He had a very different life and perspective from mine, and I always appreciate that in books. Also, Drosselmeier seemed to be attracted to men and women, which would make this book LGBT+, but his sexuality was never explicitly stated.

The writing had somewhat of a fairy tale feel to it. Sometimes things were a little vague and otherworldly. I just now realized that the fantasy element was very light. Personally I would’ve liked a bit more of the fantastical. But I liked how immersed the story was in the setting of 1800s Germany.

I’m sure there was more to this book—the blurb talks about all sorts of deeper things—but I’ve never been great at finding hidden meanings. I just enjoyed this for the story. If I recall correctly (I wrote most of this review right after reading, but I’m only getting around to editing and posting it months later), it had a wistful feeling to it. It made me feel kind of melancholic (I’m not sure I’m using that right, kind of like a slight, vague sadness), but I think it’s good when a book can make me feel anything, even if it’s not the most positive of emotions.

I don’t normally talk about the physical aspects of books, but I have to say, this book has a lot of cool stuff going on. I have a hardcover copy, and sadly I don’t have the dust jacket because I bought it from Book Outlet (I want that damn dust jacket so badly), but I know it has a cut-out where the walnut is, and on the actual book is a giant nutcracker face holding the walnut between its teeth. Also, the pages are deckle edged, which somehow matches the historical, fairy tale feel of the story.

Hiddensee Hardcover

This may not be everyone’s kind of book, but I think you just need to know what you’re getting into. It’s not a fun, whimsical, Christmas-themed retelling, but rather a fairytale-esque story of a mysterious character’s life that kind of ends with a nod to the original classic, and I enjoyed it.


Book Blurb

From the author of the beloved New York Times bestseller Wicked, the magical story of a toymaker, a nutcracker, and a legend remade . . .

Gregory Maguire returns with an inventive novel inspired by a timeless holiday legend, intertwining the story of the famous Nutcracker with the life of the mysterious toy maker named Drosselmeier who carves him.

Hiddensee: An island of white sandy beaches, salt marshes, steep cliffs, and pine forests north of Berlin in the Baltic Sea, an island that is an enchanting bohemian retreat and home to a large artists’ colony– a wellspring of inspiration for the Romantic imagination . . .

Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked and to Wonderland in After Alice, Maguire now takes us to the realms of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffmann– the enchanted Black Forest of Bavaria and the salons of Munich. Hiddensee imagines the backstory of the Nutcracker, revealing how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how he guided an ailing girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a Christmas Eve. At the heart of Hoffmann’s mysterious tale hovers Godfather Drosselmeier– the ominous, canny, one-eyed toy maker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet– who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism ties to Hellenic mystery-cults– a fascination with death and the afterlife– and ponders a profound question: How can a person who is abused by life, shortchanged and challenged, nevertheless access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless? Ultimately, Hiddensee offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress on a dark winter evening, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized, has something precious to share.


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  1. Olivia Roach

    My younger sister is a HUGE fan of everything Gregory Maguire. I don’t think she has read this one yet though, so I am going to have the honor of seeing her face light up when I tell her about it. I can see how the meandering could get a bit frustrating – a recent read of mine did the same thing and I got a bit impatient with it too :P But it sounds like the retelling aspects were cool and I have to admit, that physical book looks STUNNING.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Slow paced and meandering is definitely not for everyone, and I have to be in the right mood for it. I haven’t read Wicked, but I should prob try some of his other books since I did like this one. It’s such a pretty hardcover!

  2. Greg

    Interesting cover! It does sound nice, and I like the 1800’s German setting. I confess to not knowing much about the Nutcracker but this still sounds interesting.

    1. Kristen Burns

      There’s not that much to know tbh, it’s a pretty short story. I’m not super familiar with the ballet though. But yeah, I really like settings I don’t normally get to read about!