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Nutcracker Retelling | Book Review: Winterspell by Claire Legrand

Winterspell is a great standalone YA fantasy!

Book Review: Winterspell by Claire Legrand

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winterspell claire legrand book review

Title & Author: Winterspell by Claire Legrand

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy – Retelling

Release Date: September 30, 2014

Series: Standalone

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

How I Got the Book: ARC via the publisher


“The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.”

Inspired By The Nutcracker

I only remember two things about seeing The Nutcracker ballet. 1. I was in middle school, and I think I saw it on a field trip and 2. It had some dancing in it about sugar plum fairies (and dancing toys, too, right?). The end.

So, when I saw that Winterspell was a Nutcracker retelling, I was excited but also confused because I had no memory of the storyline at all. If you’re curious, check out the synopsis on Wikipedia.

The basic elements are in the book. We’ve got Clara, Drosselmeyer and a prince trapped in a different form. Well…that’s about the entire play, so Legrand added a whole new layer of magic and a fantasy world separate from New York (the book’s revised setting). I would call The Nutcracker more of an inspiration of this book than a “retelling.”

But, I’m not complaining! I very much enjoyed the additional details, new characters and dreamy winter atmosphere created in the book.

Nothing Like It

There is nothing currently out in YA right now that’s like Winterspell. I say that for several reasons:

  • It’s UBER sensual
  • It’s a long standalone (464 pages)
  • It’s a fairytale that goes beyond the simple

I LOVED that this story did so many unusual things. We’ve all read books where you can guess how things will turn out. Even when it’s not a big plot point, it can easily get predictable (“oh, they’re totally getting back together by the end” or “I see what the author’s doing here, they’re going to make this choice”).

But so many surprising things happen in the book and all were different and not put in just for the sake of being different.

One of the most surprising elements of the book were numerous – I mean, A LOT – moments where things get a little steamy. We’re talking making out, bedroom-ish times, etc. This is not typical, so I wonder what other readers’ reactions will be. It’s PG-13 for sure, but the story definitely didn’t cross the line and didn’t bother me at all.

Winterspell is a book where there are actual consequences to actions the characters make. I appreciated this so much. If you make a terrible decision in the novel, it isn’t just swept away a few pages later. The realism there was lovely and a nice juxtaposition with the dark fantasy elements.

More than anything, I loved that Clara grows so much throughout the book. It’s subtle, but as you look back at where she started, you can see how strong and independent she’s become. I think that’s just the best.

Bonus! Don’t miss the prequel novella, Summerfall.


I think so many readers will appreciate the gripping story and lovely, dark magic of this book. It’s so different than what’s out right now, and I felt refreshed reading it. Winterspell took inspiration from The Nutcracker and created something darker, richer and more memorable.

About Lisa Parkin

I'm a hardcore lover of young adult fiction and have been reviewing books since 2011. Other interests include Downton Abbey, heat lightning storms, Harry Potter land and (begrudingly) one orange tabby.
  • Kayla @ The Thousand Lives

    Great review! I’ve been looking forward to reading this one, now that I’ve actually taken the time to read the synopsis. Thanks for the warning about the steaminess though – I bought my sister a copy, and she tends to dislike that stuff. I’ll make sure I give her a disclaimer before she reads it 😉

  • Lisa Schensted