Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar
Midnight in Everwood Book Cover Midnight in Everwood
M.A. Kuzniar
New Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Harper Collins Publishers
October 28,2021
Kindle, Audiobook, Hardcover, Paperback

Nottingham 1906

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 and 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 confectionary.

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.

“When she danced, she flew on gossamer wings that lifted her away from the dragging weight of her family’s expectations.”

Midnight in Everwood is a coming of age retelling of the classical ballet, The Nutcracker. Marietta’s story, set in early 1900s Edwardian England, a time of rigid societal expectations especially for women, is an ennoblement of being true to oneself regardless of the circumstances. A lauding of the importance of developing and cherishing friendships in a world that rarely supports the non-conformists. An exaltation of the entrancing art of storytelling through the beauty and skill of ballet.

The Nutcracker is one of my all-time favorite ballets, having watched both daughters perform this timeless story multiple times through their dance careers. My love for this tale and enjoyment of a good retelling, as well as the beautiful cover, made me very excited to read Midnight in Everwood. However, it didn’t take long for that enthusiasm to wane. Maybe it was because I know the original so well that I found Kuzniar’s interpretation wanting. I kept waiting for those similarities or connections, found in traditional retellings, but they never came. It ended up being absolutely nothing like the original in either the plot or the characters, except for using the name Dr. Drosselmeier for the magical character and connection to the alternate confectionary world. In the original he is a generous benefactor but in this story he is a powerful and dark figure set on taking Marietta for his own pleasure. This leads me to my other issue with Midnight in Everwood which is promoted as an adult retelling of The Nutcracker. Except for one small event, which could be slightly modified to be more YA appropriate, the storyline and especially the romantic relationship is better thought of as YA material. And speaking of romantic relationships, the conclusion to Marietta’s love interest, which was actually quite compelling, was incomplete and unfulfilling. You’re basically left with an unfinished ending, as if there is another book coming, which at this point there is no indication that is the case.

Midnight in Everwood has much more merit and appeal as its own fictional tale and coming of age story of a young woman whose hopes and dreams are lived out through ballet. With a richly detailed and fantastical world as the backdrop, this story takes the reader on a dreamlike experience to a place where darkness lurks beneath the sugary exterior and choices have life-changing consequences. The Edwardian constraints are the perfect contrast to the freeing and almost spiritual moments of dance Marietta experiences. While a strong and smart character to begin with, the circumstances that push her to Everwood bring out the best qualities in her character and were inspirational and encouraging. “Be safe and strong. Never dull your sparkle for anyone else, flame fiercely into your own glittering future.”

I also appreciated Kuzniar’s apparent love for and knowledge of ballet. Not only does she use an extensive amount of ballet terms to create the dances through words but she conveys the very essence of what it means to express oneself through the medium of dance.

Ballet resides in your bones; it courses through your blood. For a dancer, it is the very essence of our identity, stripped down to its rawest, most intrinsic parts; you cannot leave it behind any more than you could forsake your own soul. Feel it. Feel the exquisite pain that comes from the purest form of love, for that is what it means to dance ballet.” – Olga in Midnight in Everwood

Midnight in Everwood has many things going for it that make it is worth the time to read. I think a different marketing approach, with less connection to The Nutcracker and more emphasis on the story itself, would change expectations coming in and allow this creative and compelling tale to really shine.