Review by Kayleigh

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But then she had noticed the way he looked at her when he didn’t think she was watching. The way he stared into her eyes, deep enough to see her soul. The way he danced with her.”

If you grew up watching The Nutcracker every holiday season and never wanted to leave its enchanted world, Midnight in Everwood must be added to your reading list.  

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, 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 confectionery. 

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.

A. Kuzniar takes the beloved story of the Nutcracker: a girl befriends a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve and wages a battle against the evil Mouse King, and turns it into a sweeping and beautiful piece of lyrical literature that is a study on female desire and independence. In Edwardian England, women didn’t have a lot of freedoms. Marietta is on the brink of womanhood, and it is expected that she give up her beloved dancing and become a wife and a mother, as is expected of her by society and demanded of her by her parents. Marietta’s path through the book is that of a girl who learns, through her own sacrifice and struggles, to fight for what is important to her. There is a strong theme of female empowerment in Midnight in Everwood that is woven elegantly through the novel. The reader watches Marietta grow in her confidence and power during her excursion to Everwood. 

As the book opens, we see Marietta meet the mysterious Dr Drosselmeier: he’s handsome, rich and mysterious and every available girl and woman in Nottingham is setting their sight on him. But Drosselmeier’s captivated by Marietta. Who finds something just a little off about him. He pursues her, with support by her old-fashioned father, and she rejects him. This relationship, one of cat and mouse games, is put in stark contrast to the relationship she builds with Captain Legat, the head of King Gelum’s army. Here we see Marietta fall in love with a man who sees her for herself, who values her intelligence and talent, and is from a completely different world than her. These star-crossed lovers filled my heart with bittersweet happiness.

One of my favourite books ever is Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and Kuzinar followed in her writing footsteps. Midnight in Everwood is filled with gorgeous writing that will suck you into an improbably fantastical world. The world building is top notch: vivid descriptions (so much food) and a unique magic system makes a familiar story feel fresh and new. Marietta could easily veer into being a selfish spoiled privileged woman, but with Kuzinar’s skill she is a poignant hero that readers will cheer for. One warning: once you begin this book you may have trouble putting it down. Each line is beautiful and pulls you into the next one. I had a couple of late nights thanks to being trapped in elaborate ballrooms filled with incredible magic.

Now, I have to give a wee spoiler: this is not the typical romance that we review here at Romance By The Book. If you know the original story of The Nutcracker, then you already know the ending. But I loved this book so much that I needed to make sure other lovers of passion and romance heard about it.

Thank you, HQ, part of HarperCollins, for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.