Marietta Stelle longs to be a ballerina but as Christmas draws nearer, her dancing days are numbered. At the wishes of her family, she will be obligated to marry and take up her place in society in the New Year. But when a mysterious toymaker, Dr Drosselmeier, purchases a neighboring townhouse, it heralds the arrival of magic and wonder in her life. Although Drosselmeier’s magic is darker than Marietta could have imagined; when he constructs an elaborate theatrical set for her final ballet performance, Marietta discovers it carries a magic all of its own. As the clock chimes midnight, Marietta finds herself walking through a land of snow-topped fir trees leading to a frozen sugar palace silent with secrets and must find a way to return home…
First of all, a thank you to HarperCollins for this advance review copy, receiving it of course does not affect my comments.
Hello again dear reader!
The other week I was in the middle of enjoying the latest in a series of epic fantasy reads when my mood reader met with my life events and they sat me down at the kitchen table to solemnly let me know I’d be unable to continue reading any of that for a while.
So then I fell back to one of my usual activities when I’m tired and just need to reset. Comfort stuff. But I also needed something new, I couldn’t just watch all my favorite Disney classics or a disaster/monster movie for the nth time. So, I took the tried-and-true formula and turned it onto my reading by going through several fairy tale retellings and a couple monster books!
As a retelling of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, M.A. Kuzniar’s adult debut, Midnight in Everwood, fit the bill perfectly. This charming stand-alone had just the right amount of wonder and magic to work as escapist fairy tale fantasy but also the right amount of darkness to remind you of the timeless “careful what you wish for” aphorism.
Protagonist Marietta wishes to escape the constricting expectations and duties of the Edwardian woman by becoming a professional ballet dancer and ever delaying her chances at marriage – to the rising frustration and chagrin of her parents who carefully and avidly navigate society in order to continuously climb its echelons. Marietta is given an ultimatum that after Christmas her dancing will be over, and she activates herself to make sure it isn’t so. After that we all know how the story goes more or less, on the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve our brave ballerina is magically transported into the magical, and marzipan filled, world of Everwood where she has to navigate court politics, a budding revolution, a cruel king, and hardships she’s never even imagined. I gloss over everything to keep this as spoiler free as possible mind you, but a lot does happen and the plot is ever moving and engaging.
Kuzniar’s prose is enchanting and at times mesmerizing or even sugary. Quite literally for the latter, in fact, if you’re a sweet tooth, I do not recommend reading this book without a snack of that variety near you. I could practically smell all the different drinks and food that the author described in detail! However, Kuzniar does not only focus on food, and she has certainly created vivid and evocative settings that the reader can feel completely immersed in. I have only one real peeve with the writing in this book and that is the number of times I read the word butterscotch! I get it was a good way to describe an eye color at first, especially considering the sweets encased context, but frankly by the time I’d reached the half point of the book my eye had already started to twitch at the word.
As for the character work (you’ll know by now, dear reader, that is my main focus when reading) I can say that I definitely enjoyed the protagonist’s growth and development throughout the book, but also that, bar for a few exceptions when it came to some of the secondary characters, the rest of the cast did occasionally feel less fleshed out than I might’ve preferred. Another way of saying this is that while I definitely liked most if not all of the characters, I didn’t *love* them. That’s fine too though since it’s up to personal taste and interests, and the rest of the story didn’t actually suffer from it.
Maybe it even helped to further drive in the importance of the relationships that do get the proper development and attention, such as the one between Marietta and her brother, or later the one between her and the other two women helping her in Everwood. Brotherhood/Sisterhood is a trope I’ll always deeply love and I’m pleased to say it was done rather well here. Furthermore, this novel does indeed feel like a fist bump to feminist values and strong women in many of their different forms, which I can always appreciate.
Finally I feel like I ought to make one last disclaimer of sorts and that is that I think the story is much less of a romance than advertised, so to speak. If we want to be picky this is technically a slow burn forbidden romance, and granted, there *are* a couple of very good scenes that well and truly satisfy those tropes. But, the rest of the time, the romantic relationship felt more like an afterthought or secondary subplot, than a key element of the story. To the point where I almost got the impression that the author remembered last minute ‘oh shoot this is a romance let me add a couple things real quick’ right before the end. Truly, the captain of the King’s guard was one of my favorite characters and he does help Marietta a lot while also having some chemistry with her. But sadly he was also one of the characters I felt would’ve benefited from some more fleshing out and depth. Seen as I didn’t get into this book for the romance anyway, this didn’t bug me but, I know that other readers who do might want to know beforehand!
Midnight in Everwood is out January 25th and it is a great wintery read that calls for you to cosy up with a blanket and read it while your mug of hot chocolate or mulled wine cools down beside you.
Until next time,