ARC Review: Sugar and Snow by Irene Davis

Author: Irene Davis
Publisher: Skookum Creek Publishing
Publish Date: November 18, 2021
Format: E-book

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Official Synopsis
The Nutcracker is back—but so is the Mouse King, and now she must choose between them…

No one believes Marie’s story about her magical journey with the Nutcracker Prince. She’s even started to doubt it herself. But then her brother Fritz brings his fellow cavalrymen home for the family’s annual Christmas party—and one of them demands she return the Mouse King’s seven crowns to him. The Nutcracker finally reappears, and the familiar battle lines are drawn, but is Marie on the same side she was before? How can the Mouse King be so intriguing, and the Nutcracker so disappointing? And when Marie’s niece Clara disappears, can she trust the Mouse King to help get Clara back—or is he still set on revenge?

If you’re into villain redemptions and fairy tale retellings, if you find Labyrinth to be a very intriguing film, if a book needs to have fencing, fighting, revenge, giants, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles in addition to kissy bits to hold your attention, then you’ll love this fantasy novel. Revisit everyone’s favorite holiday fantasy, and learn who the real heroes and villains are!

My Review
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

Ever since I was a kid The Nutcracker has been and remains my favorite ballet. I eventually signed up for ballet classes and this was always my favorite production to be in. So I was thrilled when I saw this ARC on NetGalley and equally excited when the publisher approved my request.

As the official synopsis indicates, this is a unique retelling and continuation of The Nutcracker story. I admit I am mostly familiar with the ballet adaptation and not E.T.A. Hoffman’s original work, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffman’s story actually continues beyond the moment Marie awakes from her dream and has a more complex plot. (And now I want to read the original work!) The Nutcracker ballet is actually an excerpt of part of Hoffman’s story and Alexandre Dumas’s adaptation of Hoffman’s work. Davis’s retelling transports the reader to 10 years after Marie travels to the Land of Sweets.

I thought the writing in this is good, if not a bit formal. But consider that this story is set in the 19th century when conversation and descriptions are a bit more stuffy; so, I think the writing style appropriate. Though not uncommon, there are a lot of descriptive passages compared to time devoted to dialogue. These passages don’t bog the story down, but I feel that this stole time away from character development. I also feel that the excuses and explanations Marie gave her mother were a little weak. On both of these accounts, I have conflicted opinions.

On one hand, this is a retelling of a story, a fairy tale, if you will. So I don’t necessarily think all characters need to be deep or develop significantly. Nor does all dialogue need to be strong and logical. On the other hand, I think I would have enjoyed reading it even more if there had been more character development. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the characters are two-dimensional. But I think if Marie had more and/or longer interactions with others, they’d read as more substantive characters. For example, I would have loved more dialogue with the Nutcracker prince. Marie finds him disappointing; I think additional dialogue with him could provide an opportunity to explain himself and provide another point of view.

However, overall, I enjoyed reading this retelling. It was a quick read and a great choice for the upcoming Christmas season. Davis throws in a slow burn YA romance (enemies to lovers), which is a nice plot pace setter. Marie is a strong female character, which is always something I appreciate. She can’t do everything herself, but she certainly takes an active role in rescuing her niece. I also loved the descriptions of the Land of Sweets. The world-building is confined to Marie’s home and the Land of Sweets, but there’s still plenty of imagination–giant swans, a rose water lake, a monster who eats sweets. Not to mention Davis brings in the complexities of Hoffman’s original story, causing Marie to question who she believes and whose side to take.

This was definitely a nostalgia read for me. It looks like this is book one of a trilogy, and I do think I’ll continue with it. I’m intrigued to see where Davis will take the story after the recovery of her niece. I am not familiar enough with Hoffman’s original work to know if there are more elements from it to incorporate; whether or not there are, I look forward to Davis making this story even more her own.

Rating: 3.75/5
Content warnings: dueling, blood, kidnapping
Reading format: Kindle e-book

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