This gloriously transportive reimagining of The Nutcracker tells the tale of twin sisters, divided by envy and magic, set against each another one fateful Christmas Eve.
Light and dark—this is the cursed birthright placed upon Clara and Natasha by their godfather, Drosselmeyer, whose power and greed hold an entire city in his sway. Charming Clara, the favorite, grows into a life of beauty and ease, while Natasha is relegated to her sister’s shadow, ignored and unloved.
But Natasha seizes the opportunity for revenge one Christmas Eve, when Drosselmeyer arrives at the family gala with the Nutcracker, an enchanted gift that offers entry into an alternate world: the Kingdom of Sweets.
Following Clara into the glittering land of snow and sugar, Natasha discovers a source of power far greater than Drosselmeyer: the Sugar Plum Fairy, who offers her own wondrous gifts . . . and chilling bargains. But as Natasha uncovers the truth about a dark destiny crafted long before her birth, she must reckon with forces both earthly and magical, human and diabolical, and decide to which world she truly belongs.
Johansen's dark and sprawling historical fantasy reimagining of The Nutcracker starts with a bang but loses a bit of steam as it goes on. In the 1900s, Natasha and Clara are twins cursed as infants to be "Dark" and "Light," respectively, by their sorcerer godfather, the mysterious and dastardly Drosselmeyer. The girls live out these designations, with Clara stepping into the limelight while Natasha is relegated to the shadows. Natasha has a secret, though: her love for Conrad, the heir of a duke, who slips through her bedroom window at night, then out with the dawn. On the eve of the twins' 17th birthday, which falls on Christmas, Drosselmeyer presents them with gifts—a large nutcracker for Clara and a creepy clown for Natasha. Those simple presents open the door to a portal realm of magic, mayhem, and many types of monster, complete with a complex love triangle, some murderous twists, and a thematic exploration of haves versus have-nots. Though this late turn to class struggle feels a bit abrupt, it's not unwelcome, and, while the plot meanders, there's no denying the lushness of Johansen's prose or the allure of her atmospheric setting. It's a mixed bag, but fans of thorny fairy tales and inventive retellings will want to check it out.