cover image The Kingdom of Sweets

The Kingdom of Sweets

Erika Johansen. Dutton, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4275-1

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. Agent: Dorian Karchmar, WME. (Dec.)