The Kingdom Of Sweets (Nutcracker Retelling) Goodreads Summary (review below):
Bestselling author of the Queen of the Tearling series, Erika Johansen, journeys to a new kingdom in this brilliant stand-alone novel—a darkly magical take on The Nutcracker where two sisters, cursed from birth, are forever changed one memorable Christmas. . . .
Light and dark—this is the destiny placed upon Natasha and Clara, the birthright bestowed by their godfather, the mysterious sorcerer Drosselmeyer. Clara, the favorite, grows into beauty and ease, while Natasha is cursed to live in her sister’s shadow. But one fateful Christmas Eve, Natasha gets her chance at revenge. Drosselmeyer has brought the Nutcracker, an enchanted present that offers entry into a deceptively beautiful world: the Kingdom of Sweets.
In this land of snow and sugar, Natasha is presented with a power far greater than Drosselmeyer: the Sugar Plum Fairy, who is also full of gifts . . . and dreadful bargains. As Natasha uncovers the dark destiny laid before her birth, she must reckon with powers, both earthly and magical, and decide to which world she truly belongs.
Just a quick but important note. While I have a basic understanding of The Nutcracker, I have never actually seen it. So, as you read this review, please keep that in mind. I can’t talk about how much it deviates, nor whether it is a good retelling. I know I read a fantastical, dark fantasy. And that is what this review is about.
Reason 1- Writing/Darkness
First, one-way writing grabs my attention when it has a quality that reflects the time and type of story being told. Erika Johansen’s writing does a beautiful job. Her writing has a rich and darkly musical feel. It reflects the type of story and world that Erika Johansen creates in The Kingdom of Sweets. It adds another dimension to the darkness of the story being told. Before a glimmer of comprehension, the writing in The Kingdom of Sweets draws you into a dark place, spun by Erika Johansen.
… and they pushed me from behind, carrying me along with them toward the King’s palace, that palace which no longer gleamed in the night but now seemed to loom above our heads, greay and cracking and dead. And now I realized that what I have taken for the howl of the wind was not the wind at all, but screams… so many screams that they had joined together, male and female, high and low, in a symphony of anguish…. and at last I halted on a rise overlooking the palace, seeing our destination, the future we would reach, the place where all paths would end.
For the next hour, I watched them, and all the while I thought of magical things. Terrible things.
Reason 2- World Building
I put this second because of the longer of the two quotes above. It represents (in a small part) the dark, magical vision that Erika Johansen creates. More than one world is built, and each has a sense of dread. One world is based on reality, the current time and place. The other is The Kingdom of Sweets. Both are equally explored in depth. Each has a sense of dread but for different reasons. At first, you can picture and taste each luxurious, decadent piece of the Kingdom Of Sweets. However, once it turns to more than colorless, threatening, dark sludge, you can taste the sweetness as it goes sour and feel the dread close your throat.
Reason 3- Characters
Oh, what splendid characters Erika Johansen gifts us. The Kingdom of Sweets has good, evil, and morally grey characters. They are each also so much more than just that. Most are tortured by something, someone, or both in their lives. This makes it hard just to split up the good and evil. Yet, we all have scars, don’t we? And it doesn’t turn us to the dark side. However, what this does do is create dynamic characters, both magical and non-magical.
The Sugar Plum Fairy has an almost fae feel to her. With her bargaining and lack of fuck bucks to give, she has been taking notes from the fae. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Sweets lacks all warmth, grabbing onto that of the humans. It creates a sense of the iciness throughout your spine. When the toys come alive, the malice of the clowns, nutcrackers, and others is palpable. Lastly, the sibling rivalry between Clara and Natasha is deep.
These twins have no similarities, no loving bond. Clara is beautiful and aloof, self-centered, and not aware of others. When she steals Natasha’s love, she falls apart when Natasha won’t forgive her. She truly doesn’t understand the depth of hurt she has inflicted. On the other hand, Natasha lacks Clara’s beauty but possesses an awareness and wisdom that allows her to observe all. Both girls are built individually and together, their layers many, and their dynamics fierce.
Thank you to Dutton Books and Penguin RandomHouse Audio for an advance copy of The Kingdom of Sweets by Erika Johansen, which will be released on November 28th.
Reason 4- Plot
The Kingdom of Sweets has many intertwining plot points. However, my favorite over-arching theme is, “Be careful what you wish for.” Many characters fall into this trap. In contrast, some characters are content with what they have. These contrasting points invoke a theme for readers to discover and ruminate on.
Overall, the story is well-paced, from the beginning and throughout. It combines a dark fantasy with mystery and intrigue. It also has a definite air of gothic fantasy about it. The Kingdom of Sweets is filled with festering dreams that burn the soul away and cruelty that invites retribution.
Reason 5- Audiobook/Narrator
The audiobook is well crafted. The narrator, Grace Gray, is phenomenal. There aren’t words to convey how well her intonation, cadence, and abilities don’t just sustain the dark world of The Kingdom of Sweets. It adds to it, making the story, characters, and world jump off the page. Moreover, she surrounds listeners with the darkness that Erika Johansen masterfully defines.