Sunday, October 5, 2014

Book Review: Winterspell by Claire LeGrand

Here's the Amazon blurb about the book:
After her mother is brutally murdered, seventeen-year-old Clara Stole is determined to find out what happened to her. Her father, a powerful man with little integrity, is a notorious New York City gang lord in the syndicate-turned-empire called Concordia. And he isn’t much help.

But there is something even darker than Concordia’s corruption brewing under the surface of the city, something full of vengeance and magic, like the stories Clara’s godfather used to tell her when she was a little girl. Then her father is abducted and her little sister’s life is threatened, and Clara accidentally frees Nicholas from a statue that has been his prison for years. Nicholas is the rightful prince of Cane, a wintry kingdom that exists beyond the city Clara has known her whole life.

When Nicholas and Clara journey together to Cane to retrieve her father, Clara encounters Anise, the queen of the faeries, who has ousted the royal family in favor of her own totalitarian, anti-human regime. Clara finds that this new world is not as foreign as she feared, but time is running out for her family, and there is only so much magic can do...

And here's my take on it:

This is supposedly based on The Nutcracker ballet, but it's very, very loosely based on it.  The protagonist's name is Clara, of course.  There is Herr Drosselmeyer and Anise, who is based on the Snow Queen.  There is the briefest mention of Peter (Drosselmeyer's apprentice) at the very end, and there is the Christmas Eve scene with the growing tree.  Oh, and the names Anise and Cane (the magical land) fit into the old story.
But that's about it.  The Prince has not been trapped as a nutcracker.  The mice do not fight tin soldiers. The snow queen is not nice.  There is no international or confectionary entertainment.
It's a tale of magic and war.
Originally, it reminded me of Gears of Wonderland, as the world of Cane is a decidedly steampunk take on a childhood classic, and we deal with organized crime.  But Gears of Wonderland is less violent and less .... well, kinky.
So, what's good about this book?
The characterization is.  Clara develops a spine during the tale.  And the major supporting characters (Nicholas, Drosselmeyer, Anise) are multi-layered and complex.  That kept me reading.
The plot structure was also tight.  There weren't any real surprises, but the action kept building and the pacing was just right.
So, overall, it was a good read.
However, it was pretty violent and kinky.
In fact, I think this should be classed as New Adult rather than Young Adult.  It's much too heavy on the "adult" to be a kids' book.
There are lots of deaths, for one thing.  Clara's mother has been sliced open, torn apart, and branded with faery symbols.  And she's just the beginning.  (Nope, this is not a story about dancing children and Mother Buffoon.)

And then there's what seems to be a 50 Shades of Nutcracker bit going on.  (Confession: I have not read 50 Shades of Grey, but I know it's about S&M and bondage.)  Clara wants to make out with a statue in one scene.  Then we have the pedophile "doctor" (clearly inspired by HH Holmes) who gets sexually excited over vivisecting orphaned school girls (rape is implied as well) -- Clara is supposed to marry him/become his sex slave or else he'll rape and kill her little sister.  Oh, isn't that just sweet?   See what I mean about more "adult" than "young" here?
And the kinky stuff just keeps coming.  Nicholas is naked for most of his introductory scenes, Clara and Nicholas have to hide out in a bordello and pretend to be new recruits, and there's a heated scene wherein he almost rapes her to appease a voyeuristic crowd of faery watchers.  (Oh, but he "didn't want to."  He "hated doing it."  Sure.  Riiiight.)  If that isn't enough, readers are treated to several nights of Clara's lesbian longings for Anise as they lie naked in bed with each other and kiss.  (Ew.)  And then there's the "bonding" scene in which Clara becomes Nicholas' willing blood slave (oh, but he "promises" not to use her against her will, even though he's lied before and has violent tendencies) by getting naked in public, then slicing each other with knives, sharing blood, and arousing each other ---  in front of a crowd of people.
So, there are some books that are truly written for teenagers and not so much for adults who like to read about teenagers (such as The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy).  Then there are books that are written to be read by both teens and adults (such as Harry Potter).  And then there are books featuring young characters but which are not really for the 12- 18 crowd, but rather for adults who want adult books but without the "baggage" adult characters bring, for adults who want to read about the newness of adult themes, not about those already made jaded and cynical by it.  Winterspell fits nicely into that last category.

So, overall, it's a pretty good read, but I believe it is mislabeled as YA.  This book will certainly NOT be in my junior high classroom, and I think readers deserve to know that its intended audience is adults.
I still liked the book, even though I found the "ewwwww!" factor to be pretty high.

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