Midnight in Everwood by M.A. Kuzniar
Harper Collins, pb, £7.45
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Marietta Stelle wants nothing more than to dance, but her parents have other ideas. She can study ballet until the new year, but she must marry as befitting her family’s social status. A newcomer to their home city, an unmarried doctor, independently wealthy, catches her mother’s attention, and soon, Marietta must spend most of her evenings in the company of Dr Drosselmeier and his enchanting windup toys. But while Dr Drosselmeier’s conversation and toys spellbind everyone else, Marietta suspects something darker behind his charming smile.
On Christmas Eve, just before Marietta’s last ballet performance, Marietta hears her father and Drosselmeier agree to their engagement. When Drosselmeier corners her in her studio later, Marietta hides in a grandfather clock to escape him, only to find another world. The vindictive King Gelum treats Marietta as a dancing attraction to his parties in a world of magic and sugarplums, balls and feasts. Her only hope for escape is the handsome captain with butterscotch eyes, and the other females held prisoner with her. But is escaping King Gelum and returning home better than staying because how is marrying Dr Drosselmeier and giving up dancing a better choice?
Midnight in Everwood is a feminist retelling of the famous Nutcracker story. The protagonist, Marietta, is a privileged socialite who is being forced to marry. For Marietta, marriage is a leash because it means she will have to give up her true passion for ballet dancing. If she can’t dance, who is she? However, Kuzniar has also turned Marietta into the antagonist too. Marietta is strong-willed, and after escaping Drosselmeier, she ignores all the warnings about King Gelum because they come from a man. She agrees to stay with the king creating her own prison.
This story is as much about Marietta’s personal growth as it is about good versus evil. The inclusion of BAME characters allows Marietta to understand how privileged her position truly is. She has everything she could ever want, while Harriet, a black woman, has had to fight for her place in the ballet school and is only there at the sufferance of a white man. There are also references to the suffragettes who fought so Marietta could have all her freedoms, but she doesn’t understand those sacrifices. It is only when she is Gelum’s prisoner that Marietta truly grasps the charmed life she has lived.
Kuzniar’s world-building is lavish and gorgeous, befitting Marietta’s lifestyle in the real world and the magical land. Her descriptions of the food, clothes, and decorations are sumptuous, creating a beautiful landscape for the reader. When mixed with the romance element between Marietta and Captain Legat, she swept me away for hours. I didn’t want it to end.
I have always loved The Nutcracker, a fantastical story of good and evil told with toys and mice. Kuzniar has elevated the fairytale, showcased the feminist elements, and given us a heroine in Marietta who is relatable, likeable, and determined. I would highly recommend Midnight in Everwood to anyone who loved Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale.