This week’s Biblioshelf Musings are about Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar. There’s always something about The Nutcracker that signals Christmas is just around the corner so as soon as I read the blurb for the Nutcracker-esque retelling Midnight in Everwood, I immediately added it to my TBR pile! And boy, it did not disappoint! This is one of my all-time favourite reads this year. I had to give it 5/5 stars, it’s pure, delectable perfection from start to finish.
Huge thanks to NetGalley, M.A. Kuzniar and the publishers HQ for providing me with a complimentary e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.
Book: Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar
Genre: Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Literary Fiction
Publication Date: October 28th 2021
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
A spell-binding retelling of The Nutcracker, filled with enchanted toys, decadent balls, fierce feminine friendships and a forbidden romance. For fans of The Toymakers, Caraval and The Bear and the Nightingale.
There’s nothing Marietta Stelle loves more than ballet, but after Christmas, her dreams will be over as she is obligated to take her place in Edwardian society. While she is chafing against such suffocating traditions, a mysterious man purchases the neighbouring townhouse. Dr Drosselmeier is a charming but calculating figure who wins over the rest of the Stelle family with his enchanting toys and wondrous mechanisms.
When Drosselmeier constructs an elaborate set for Marietta’s final ballet performance, she discovers it carries a magic all of its own. On the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve, she is transported to a snowy forest, where she encounters danger at every turn: ice giants, shadow goblins and the shrieking mist all lurk amidst the firs and frozen waterfalls and ice cliffs. After being rescued by the butterscotch-eyed captain of the king’s guard, she is escorted to the frozen sugar palace. At once, Marietta is enchanted by this glittering world of glamorous gowns, gingerbread houses, miniature reindeer and the most delicious confectionary.
But all is not as it seems and Marietta is soon trapped in the sumptuous palace by the sadistic King Gelum, who claims her as his own. She is confined to a gilded prison with his other pets; Dellara, whose words are as sharp as her teeth, and Pirlipata, a princess from another land. Marietta must forge an alliance with the two women to carve a way free from this sugar-coated but treacherous world and back home to follow her dreams. Yet in a hedonistic world brimming with rebellion and a forbidden romance that risks everything, such a path will never be easy.
The Nutcracker meets Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia is this beguiling wintry fairytale from M.A. Kuzniar. Whether it’s the twinkling Tchaikovsky soundtrack, the magical nostalgia of seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes or the curiously enchanted sugar plum fairies and Mouse Kings, there is just something ensorcelling about the tale of the Nutcracker in all of its numerous variations.
Whilst I’ve seen the Nutcracker ballet several times, I haven’t read the original tale of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman so cannot offer comparisons of Midnight in Everwood to the original telling of the tale. In spite of this, I was still equally blown away as to how Kuzniar has taken the most magical elements of this charming story and breathed fresh life and purpose into her reimagining.
I’m a huge fan of novels which craft a world I can imagine leaping into with my ‘literary worlds passport’ and the world-building in this novel is so on point, it’s exquisite! From frozen sugar castles, moose pulled sleighs, miniature reindeers, marzipan alleyways and ballet stage sets with mechanical moving mice, the whole creation of Everwood appealed to every single sense in my body. There was so much attention to detail in everything from what the characters ate to the elaborate costumes they wore to balls. Kuzniar’s language and descriptions were an absolute confectionary delight of storytelling which is one of the main reasons I had to give this book 5/5 stars.
The characters are truly endearing. Mariette starts off as a determined yet naive society girl who just wants to dance rather than settle down into an arranged marriage. Upon her arrival in Everwood, she gets beguiled by all of the enchantments and possibilities of that new world. When the rose-tinted glow of that kingdom finally wears off and she develops strong friendships with Dellara and Pirlipata, Mariette emerges as a fierce, confident woman who has the courage to stand up for what she believes in and follow her dreams.
Dr. Drosselmeier appears as the perfect sinister, morally grey villain. He tries so hard to ensnare her into his magical world, yet ends up providing her with the exact tools and experiences she needs to overcome him. His parody within the world of Everwood keeps you guessing as to whether his character resides within that magical world or if he is just the great orchestrator from the outside.
Captain Legat offers up the forbidden romance element of the novel and I was totally there for it! I loved all of his and Mariette’s interactions. I also liked the way he was able to stand up and be recognised as his own character within the story and even though it fell slightly into the ‘trope/predictable’ element of fantasy romances, there was certainly nothing wrong with a little indulgence.
Mariette’s friendships with Dellara and Pirlipata showcased strong females and added to the vibes of women overcoming the dominance of patriarchal suppression. This was a classic case of women uplifting other women and I really like how Kuzniar has paved the way for these characters to take up stories of their own in possible companion novels.
With background references to the suffragette movement and forbidden homosexuality in Edwardian England, Kuzniar does well to address these issues whilst keeping the narratives of the main characters as the focus in the plot.
Every little thing in this novel points to the small yet highly significant details. The deeper I look within this story and the more I research around the original tale and its ballet heritage, the more symbols, foreshadowings and allusions I pick up about how much work has gone into this masterful creation and reader, I wholly appreciate it!
Even the naming of these characters was special with Mariette linking back to the original character of Marie, whilst also sounding like a marionette. As Mariette is forced to dance for the evil King Gelum, I couldn’t help but think of her as a puppet or as the girl from the Anderson fairytale The Red Shoes. Dellara’s fairylike symbolism can be seen to take it’s influences from Antonietta Dell’Era, the original Sugar Plum Fairy. Even Captain Legat could be a reference to the Russian principal dancer Nikolai Gustavovich Legat. These are the kind of references that I absolutely live for in fiction and Kuzniar has done such a stellar job at weaving all of these references into her ode to the world of The Nutcracker.
I could probably wax lyrical about this book for ages and I’m sure there are a multitude of little pop culture / ballet references which I am yet to discover. Either way, this is truly a spectacular work of fiction. Kuzniar has taken the basis of a much loved winter fairytale and turned it into her own magical world brimming full of stories and adventure. Needless to say, if you’re a fan of the Nutcracker then you’ll probably adore this book just as much as me. However, if you’re also a fan of the types of adventures where characters visit strange, new worlds, such as Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia then add this extraordinary, enchanting novel to your list – it may well become a new favourite!
Why Should I Read This?
For the incredible attention to detail in each and every page. This is a purposefully thought-through tale which shows how much of a beloved story and world this is to the author.
For the amazing world-building which I could have literally eaten off the page; this really deserves to be one of those scratch-and-sniff books!
For the perfect wintry fairytale to set you up for the forthcoming festive season.