The Enchanted Sonata // by Heather Dixon Wallwork

//published 2018//

First off, what do you do when an author gets married and changes her writing name??  Should I move her older books to “Wallwork, Heather Dixon”?  Or pretend like she didn’t put Wallwork at the end of her name for this one and still list it under Dixon, Heather??  Sigh.

Anyway, a little while back I read Illusionarium by this same author (minus the Wallwork).  While I found it interesting, I didn’t particularly find it Magical.  Emily from over at When Life Reminds You of a Book suggested that I try Dixon/Wallwork’s newest story, The Enchanted Sonata, and I am so glad that she did because I thoroughly enjoyed this delightful story.

It’s a sort-of retelling of the The Nutcracker with a bit of Pied Piper mixed in.  As such, the story takes place in two different worlds.  Clara’s world – which we presume to be our own – is set in late 1800’s Russia (ish – maybe not Russia exactly but definitely that vibe).  At age 15, Clara’s passion is playing the piano.  Ever since her father died a couple of years ago, she has been extra determined to play for the Christmas concert, throwing herself into composing her own song for the occasion.  Her instructor has finally deemed her playing good enough, and now, on Christmas Eve, she is on the cusp of all of her dreams coming true.

In the other world, also Russia-like, but with more magic (and also giant, angry rats that roam the woods outside the walled cities seeking whom they may devour), Nikolai is fast approaching his majority and his coronation day.  He feels doubts, though, that he is worthy to rule his country.  Those doubts are solidified when the country is attacked by a magician who changes children and soldiers into toys, and mockingly challenges Nikolai to defeat him – if Nikolai is truly worth of the throne.

Okay, first off, this book had some really big weak points.  It was fairly predictable throughout, and there wasn’t a lot of character development/depth.  Wallwork is a fan of making a point with her books and sometimes hasn’t quite grasped the concept of subtlety.  While this one wasn’t as bad as the on and on droning about “true north” in Illusionarium, there is still way too much time spent on discussing metaphorical rats.

However, my biggest problem with this story was Clara’s age – at no point did she seem like she was 15.  Sometimes she acted far, far more childish than that, yet I’m also supposed to believe that she is ready to get married and become a queen?  I was also bothered by her obsessive crush on a fellow pianist in her real world, mostly because the implication is that he’s quite a bit older than her.  I already found Nikolai at 18 years old flirting with Clara at age 15 years old to be a bit bothersome.  Anyone older than 18 is DEFINITELY out of the running for flirting with a 15-year-old in my mind.  This whole aspect of the story would have sat much easier with me if Clara had been 17 or 18. It doesn’t seem like much of a difference but IT IS.

But now that the negatives are out of the way – the positives.  And there are many!  First off – THAT COVER!  I don’t understand why all covers aren’t this gorgeous.  It’s not like it’s this big complicated thing, and it’s so much more engaging than just having a bland picture of a girl in a cape, which seems to be so prevalent in YA fantasy these days.

The usage of musical language in this book was absolutely perfect.  This sounds corny, but the whole story somehow read like a symphony.  I could practically hear the background music the entire time I was reading it.  The sense of place was fantastic – it’s the kind of book that makes you feel the cold, the snow, the moonlight.

While Clara and Nikolai didn’t have as much depth as I wanted them to, they were still done well, and I could see their motivations and methods.  The magic made sense without being too complicated.  The story itself was done very well.  I loved the aspects of The Nutcracker – I really enjoy it when an author takes a classic story that kind of doesn’t exactly make sense and turns it into something approaching believable.  I also really liked the little side story with the candymakers – although again, it would have been nice to see that fleshed out a little more.

All in all, while The Enchanted Sonata wasn’t a perfect book, it was still a confident 4* read.  If you’re looking for a fairly quick, magical story, this is one I recommend.