I want to thank Penguin for asking me to be on the blog tour for The Toymaker’s Apprentice. I’ve wanted to start featuring more middle grade novels on Great Imaginations, and it looks like it’s starting to pay off!
Sherri L. Smith is an author whose books I have enjoyed before (Orleans), and this is her middle grade debut. This is my first Nutcraker retelling, and to be honest, I’m not very familiar with the original at all. But I think this presents an interesting perspective from which to review the book.The Toymaker's Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers on October 13th 2015
Genres: fantasy, middle grade
Source: Publisher, Book Tour
Buy on Amazon
A gorgeously imagined Nutcracker retelling from award-winning author making her middle-grade debut
Stefan Drosselmeyer is a reluctant apprentice to his toymaker father until the day his world is turned upside down. His father is kidnapped and Stefan is enlisted by his mysterious cousin, Christian Drosselmeyer, to find a mythical nut to save a princess who has been turned into a wooden doll. Embarking on a wild adventure through Germany, Stefan must save Boldavia’s princess and his own father from the fanatical Mouse Queen and her seven-headed Mouse Prince, both of whom have sworn to destroy the Drosselmeyer family. Based on the original inspiration for the Nutcracker ballet, Sherri L. Smith brings the Nutcracker Prince to life in this fascinating journey into a world of toymaking, magical curses, clockmaking guilds, talking mice and erudite squirrels.
Going into this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I’m not really familiar with The Nutcracker (the story or the ballet). In fact, my only experience with it was walking out of a holiday ballet performance as a child because my parents were bored. I was actually enjoying the dancing, but then, I have always enjoyed dance. So I basically went into this completely blind. I knew there was a nutcracker and some talking mice, and that’s about it.
Speaking of talking mice, I thought I would have an issue with the anthropomorphism of animals, but I didn’t. I did a little at first–suspension of disbelief when it comes to talking animals is rough–but like Dan said, it’s much tougher to get past talking animals in a movie/TV than it is in literature.
I will say I enjoyed the human scenes more, and I actually liked Christian and Stefan Drosselmeyer as characters more than any of the mice, but the delusions of the mice were entertaining to me. The fact that they thought they could take over Boldavia and the city of Nuremberg made me laugh. Yes, mice and rats are great at spreading plagues, but they are not great at fighting wars. They are rodents. It just made me laugh. So in that sense the ending was predictable but still fun, because you knew how it was going to end but not which characters would survive.
Sherri L Smith’s writing is very sophisticated and well-articulated, and the storytelling is superb, but I was hoping for a little more atmosphere, a little more imagery. Nuremberg is in Bavaria, and Bavaria is one of the places I most want to travel to, and I was just hoping it would come to life a little more through the writing. Though I will say that I absolutely loved the way clocks were interwoven into the story, and inside the city of Nuremberg in particular.
But where the setting lacked, the characters shined. I felt a lot of love for Zacharias, Christian, and Stefan Drosselmeyer. I was even a little fond of the rat charged with tutoring the mouse king. The mouse king himself was quite the spectacle, and the author did a great job of bringing all the different personalities together into one entity. The alternating POVs between human and mouse were seamlessly blended and flowed impeccably well.
I was a bit shocked that this was a middle grade novel when all was said and done and I turned the last page. The dialogue was utterly sophisticated and it felt like the type of book that was written with children in mind, but also one that was definitely at a level that would not bore any adult. The action did not happen until the very last few chapters, and I have to wonder if a younger child wouldn’t get a little bored. But then, maybe the fact that the book is overflowing with talking mice would be enough to keep them intrigued. I know that I am not the audience this book was written for, and yet, I feel like I was. This book should sell well at Christmas, and it’s the type of novel that I can see families reading in front of the Christmas tree together.
I’m happy I read it. Nutcracker retellings are incredibly rare, and though I tend to shy away from any fairytale retelling as most have been a disappointment for me, this retelling absolutely was not. It brought some much needed flavor to my book selections this year.
Follow along with the rest of The Toymaker’s Apprentice tour here:
The Book Smugglers – guest post – 10/12
Novel Novice – interview – 10/13
Owl for YA – guest post – 10/14
The Compulsive Reader – 25 Random Things – 10/15
Teen Librarian Toolbox – review – 10/16
Green Bean Teen Queen – guest post – 10/19
Kid Lit Frenzy – interview – 10/20
Great Imaginations – review – 10/21
The Children’s Book Review – top 5 list – 10/22
Word Spelunking – guest post – 10/23