'Midnight in Everwood' by M.A. Kuzniar
Disclaimer: On my blog, I do not write book 'reviews' or offer star ratings. I believe that every published work has something to offer and that, though I personally may not like a particular book, that does not mean it does not hold any value. On this blog I write book 'discussions' - where I focus mostly on the parts I do like, discussing any themes, writing techniques and other aspects that interest me and that I want to discuss. This then means that these posts will contain spoilers so fair warning. Summarised: these are book discussions, not book reviews.
So, after a wee hectic life period, a (blog) writing hiatus and a reading rut, I'm back! And which book finally broke me out of it all? (Yes, I know it's in the title.)
Midnight in Everwood, a novel by M.A. Kuzniar. Let me just start you off by saying that I LOVED this book and it is now a new, firm favourite, and one which I will absolutely be returning to every Christmas. Even now when I'm writing this, I'm actually sad that I've finished it and have no more stories to read within this world but anyway - that's always the plight of the reader.
SO. I first came across this book on Twitter, where the cover immediately caught my eye. Designed with various hues of blue and emblazoned with a silver ballerina, her core a snowflake, dancing amongst snow-covered fir trees, the cover caused me to pause my incessant, mindless scrolling. Once it had caught my attention, I then saw the phrase 'a retelling of The Nutcracker' and from that moment on I knew that I had to read it.
Set in 1906 Nottingham, we meet Marietta Stelle, a ballerina who wants to make it big and travel the world's stages like the greats before her. Marietta has no intention to marry for money, or even for love for that matter. She just wants to dance.
Now if you know me, then you know I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jane Austen. The time period and the dialogue scratched that Austen-esque itch, but it was truly refreshing to read about a female character who only cared for her own situation in life, and making that situation for herself. Think Elizabeth Bennet but kicked up a notch. (Yes, I know that I'm comparing a classic novel to a contemporary one, and obviously Austen and Kuzniar themselves are not contemporaries and have therefore experienced very different societies and in her day, Austen was pretty out there for feminism but yeah, I enjoyed a contemporary writer writing a story within this society/time period.)
As it is the Edwardian era, English society still involves the marrying of one's daughters to a suitable match. This is no different when it comes to Maritetta's parents. When the mysterious and aloof Dr. Drosselmeier moves to the town, a toymaker with no apparent family or past history to speak of, the town becomes enamoured. People talk, spreading gossip, already fancying his likelihood to wish to marry. "Well, I heard that he has never married but has returned to England to secure an advantageous match. Apparently the doctor possesses a grand fortune. "No doubt he shall be seeking a wife to manage both the town house and his debut into society." Yes, I did immediately think of the famous line that starts "It is a truth universally acknowledged..."
From the moment they heard of him, Marietta and Drosselmeier's fates were entertwined. Not romantically, but far more dark and sinister.
Now this is the part where I go on to 'spoilers'. As much as it's a retelling and you could probably guess at a few plot points, there's still a lot of original plot points in there that you would be best reading for yourself first time round. So we're into the book discussion part of this blog post.
So Drosselmeier really gave me the fear. I'll admit, I knew he was going to bed bad news from my knowledge of the original, but I STILL got sucked into Kuzniar's writing and the way she made him seem like a hopeless romantic. Basically, when Marietta liked him, I the reader liked him, when Marietta became wary of him, I too became wary of him. You followed and trusted her thoughts, rather than making your own judgements. So when it got to THAT ballroom scene, Drosselmeier gave me the fear. Angered by her refusal of his hand, Drosselmeier banishes her to another world - the world of Everwood.
From here, Marietta finds herself in a forest that seems rather lovely and snowy at first, but grows deadly the further she progresses. Until she is saved by the King's Army, led by a Captain Legat. Now, again, fair warning to spoilers so if you're still reading at this point it's on you, but I did not actually see the romance between them coming. And man, were they cute. That is my first discussion point in this novel, which is that I loved the relationship that developed between them. The fact that, in the end, they don't even end up together, because Legat wants Marietta to go back to her own world, slay her demons, and live out her dream as a dancer made me so happy. I knew that they couldn't end up together because they were from separate worlds, but a part of me did wonder how Kuzniar was going to end it. Was she going to go down the cliche route, and somehow they find a way? Would Marietta stay in Everwood, now that it was free of the evil King, and dance here instead? The fact that she did neither really pleasantly surprised me, and I enjoyed the fact that a female character stuck to what she wanted and pursued that above all else.
I also loved the mirroring. I know that this is something from the original Nutcracker, but I have also always enjoyed the trope in other novels that I have read. For one, the female friendships. Back home in Nottingham, Marietta never makes friends with Harriet and Victoria, two fellow ballerinas, and has always regretted the lack of female companionship in her life. So, when she goes to Everwood, and finds herself trapped in the ice castle by the Evil King alongside two other women, Pirlipata and Dellara, she gains a second chance.
That was another thing I loved. When Marietta first met the two women, trapped with her, she says to them both that they should work together to try and break free. I was fully expecting the cheesy "Yeah let's do it!" cliche, but I was genuinely surprised when Dellara turned round and said "no". Of course, the women develop a friendship through time and do eventually break free from the castle, refusing to leave one another behind, but I really loved that too. It was just a wee surprise, but it really aided in showing the reader how far their relationship had grown over time.
I also loved Kuzniar's writing, full stop. Of course, The Nutcracker is full of sugarplums and peppermint candy canes and all Christmassy, sweet things, and Midnight in Everwood is no different. Her constant descriptions of the food in the world, or the comparing of things to sweet food in the world, could have become tedious, but the way she wrote it all made it just as entertaining as the actual plot. Actually, that's a potentially unpopular opinion - I've heard of a lot of people saying that they love when authors over-describe food in worlds because they can imagine it, but I absolutely hate it. I just want plot and adventure and drama! But Kuzniar's writing was so sweet and I'd gladly overindulge on every quote and phrase.
Of course, the overall story involves a lot of magic and things not really being explained in a way that makes sense in a normal world. But that's okay! That's what fantasy and magic is all about, and sometimes you've just got to go with it. I totally understand people not enjoying the whole 'and then this thing just magically appeared in the nick of time and saved the day' but I really think it depends on how the author does it and how it fits in the world. Regardless, there is a bit of convenient happenings in there, but I was away in a magic, fairytale land so I wasn't caring!
And then finally, Drosselmeier's demise. How enjoyable was that? You never know with retellings just how much the author is going to stray from the original story, so as much as you might THINK you know what's going to happen, you're still usually on a bit of a knife edge with it. So yeah, I was thrilled when Marietta got back to her world and defeated Drosselmeier. And I loved that, when she did go back, Marietta made a point of making friends with Harriet and Victoria finally, after learning how important female friendships were to her through Dellara and Pirlipata. Again, I've always loved mirroring, and I love the fact that she came back to her life and essentially, turned it all around and made it right, and found the strength to do it all through her banishment to Everwood.
I don't even know how to summarise this book other than stating how much I loved it. It genuinely broke me out of the longest reading rut of my life, and I'm super grateful for that. I loved the magic, I loved the Christmas vibes, I loved the healthy romance and the importance of female friendships. I loved it all. I can't wait to visit Everwood again next Christmas; I miss it already.