While this book did have some flaws, or maybe just aspects that were not for me, it also had some great things going for it that I want to talk about, so I’m just going to list it out.
– Girl power. There are plenty of books with female characters who don’t need saving because they can save themselves, and this was one of them, but there was so much more to it than that. Never did a single character doubt Clara’s (or Anise’s) abilities to fight, plan, rescue, kill, etc. No one was ever like, “No, you stay because you’re a fragile, dainty female!” What’s even better was that Nicholas admitted to Clara that she’s a better fighter than he is. Even Borschalk was afraid of Clara, and he was this massive, hulking, dreadlocked faery soldier. And Anise, though pretty evil, was a great character on the feminism front, even vaguely touching on things like body image (e.g. “It’s just a body, Clara, the only one you will ever have. Why spend life ashamed of it?“).
– A possibly bisexual female lead. Clara did have feelings for Nicholas, but she also seemed to have feelings for Anise. And her feelings for Anise were treated exactly the same way her feelings for Nicholas were. Clara didn’t use any labels or question her sexuality, she just felt what she felt. I don’t normally point out characters’ sexual orientations in my reviews, but I feel like bisexual females in YA sci-fi/fantasy are hard to find, and so people might want to know that.
– A incredibly creative retelling. This book took all the aspects of the original (a man cursed into an object, the battle between rats and toy soldiers, traveling to a fairy tale-esque, snowy land), and then it twisted them all in unique, creative ways and expanded them into this elaborate story. I loved seeing how the elements of the original played out.
– Likeable characters. Not only was Clara strong, she was empathetic, forgiving, and intelligent, always paying attention, thinking, and trying things in order to save herself and her family. Then there was Nicholas. I’ve already mentioned how respectful and supportive he was, but he was also someone who learned from his mistakes, was willing to risk his life for others, and wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and admit his flaws. *MILD SPOILER* Yes, he did something terrible, but he completely, 100% owned up to it, learned from it, did everything he could to repent, and never once tried to defend it, proving that he was truly sincere in his apology. *END SPOILER*
– The writing style. The book was set in historical times, and the writing reflected that with a historical feel. Writing style preference is a very subjective thing though.
– The plot dragged some in the middle. I was interested in the story and where it was going to go, but, once they were in Cane (the fantasy land where the story takes place), I wanted more to start happening to push the story forward.
I’m really glad I read the book! I actually did enjoy it, despite it flaws, and especially loved the creative way The Nutcracker was retold.
Anyone who likes creative retellings, The Nutcracker, faeries, steampunk, magic, and early 1900s America.