Thursday, December 14, 2023

Review: The Kingdom of Sweets by Erika Johansen


The Kingdom of Sweets by Erika Johansen
Publication Date: November 28th, 2023
Hardcover. 368 pages.

About The Kingdom of Sweets:

"Bestselling author of the Queen of the Tearling series, Erika Johansen, journeys to a new kingdom in this brilliant stand-alone novel—a darkly magical take on The Nutcracker where two sisters, cursed from birth, are forever changed one memorable Christmas. . . .

Light and dark—this is the destiny placed upon Natasha and Clara, the birthright bestowed by their godfather, the mysterious sorcerer Drosselmeyer. Clara, the favorite, grows into beauty and ease, while Natasha is cursed to live in her sister’s shadow. But one fateful Christmas Eve, Natasha gets her chance at revenge. For Drosselmeyer has brought the Nutcracker, an enchanted present that offers entry into a deceptively beautiful world: the Kingdom of Sweets.

In this land of snow and sugar, Natasha is presented with a power far greater than Drosselmeyer: the Sugar Plum Fairy, who is also full of gifts . . . and dreadful bargains. As Natasha uncovers the dark destiny laid before her birth, she must reckon with powers both earthly and magical, and decide to which world she truly belongs."

I know people generally like to read warm and cozy holiday stories during December, but if you're like me and sometimes feel allergic to all of those, then you might enjoy Erika Johansen's dark Nutcracker-inspired book The Kingdom of Sweets. This is a very thoughtful story that explores some dark and complicated situations in a world that is touched by hints of magic and the unknown. 

I read Erika Johansen's The Queen of the Tearling years ago when it came out and unfortunately did not care for it, and as a result had not read any subsequent books from her. When I saw the premise for The Kingdom of Sweets and saw that it revolved around a dark re-inspired version of the Nutcracker, I knew it was time to give Johansen another read, and I was very pleasantly surprised by the result. 

The Kingdom of Sweets follow twins Clara and Natasha, cursed from birth by their devious godfather Drosselmeyer to embody light and dark, respectively. Clara lives a life that is blessed by beauty and charm and is generally loved by everyone around her. She lights up every room she walks into and lives a life of ease and comfort. Natasha, however, lives a life in the shadows, always avoided by those around her and seen to be a sign of bad luck and darkness. She lives a life of solitude, though she sometimes likes the fact that this allows her to spend more time reading and learning on her own. Despite this, Natasha harbors deep resentment towards her sister and those in their community who always disregard her, and this resentment drives her actions when both twins are swept away to the Kingdom of Sweets by a toy nutcracker one Christmas Eve.

The Kingdom of Sweets dives deep into the sisterly bond between Clara and Natasha and really digs into the many dark sentiments that reside in such an uneven relationship due to Drosselmeyer's curse. Natasha holds immense jealousy and rage towards Clara that is fully revealed after a betrayal that leaves Natasha at the end of her rope, and I think Johansen captured all of the hurt and anger that Natasha would feel from living such a life perfectly. While I didn't always agree with everything our characters did–especially Natasha–I found it easy to understand and empathize with where Natasha was coming from. It is an incredibly complex relationship that exists between the two sisters, and I really appreciated how much we truly got to explore this relationship throughout the story, from the good and the bad to the downright ugly. 

One of my favorite parts of this book was, of course, visiting the Kingdom of Sweets with Natasha. This is also why I'm disappointed to say that we don't spend nearly enough time in the Kingdom of Sweets to fully appreciate it, and I wish so badly that we had gotten to explore it a bit more. That being said, I loved it so much due to Johansen's evocative descriptions and how she made it feel both wonderfully magical and also deliciously dark at the same time. Johansen creates an atmosphere in both the setting Kingdom of Sweets and back in the real world that is full of darkness and foreboding, while also maintaining a sense of magic and curiosity that really kept me hooked. I was captivated by this world and all the possibilities that existed, and while we explored a lot of this, I do wish we had explored more. 

Johansen is an author who seems to really value precise, descriptive prose, and also seems to be fond of incorporating as many obscure vocabulary words as possible. I read a lot and often come across unfamiliar words, but I made great use of my Kindle's dictionary while reading this one, and while I love learning new words, I sometimes found the words used by Johansen a bit clunky and almost with a forced feeling. Her writing often wavered back and forth for me between really beautiful descriptions or observations and sentences or phrases that just felt overly clunky and awkward to the point that much of the book felt overwritten. This is actually one of the things that I recall disliking about The Queen of the Tearling, and so it was helpful to confirm that I don't think I mesh overly well with Johansen's natural writing style, but that I can still enjoy her work depending upon the story itself, and I think that is why I had a better time with The Kingdom of Sweets. I also found some issues with odd pacing and plotting that often times made it a bit more difficult for me to get through the book in a timely fashion, but not enough to where I ever felt like really putting the book down. 

Overall, I've given The Kingdom of Sweets 3.75 stars! I think The Kingdom of Sweets is a deliciously dark and beautiful Nutcracker-inspired story that will hit perfectly with the right reader. It's not without its faults due to some writing and plotting choices, but overall I enjoyed my experience reading this one and would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys dark retellings. 

*I received a copy of The Kingdom of Sweets courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

1 comment:

  1. I like the sound of the sisters' complex relationship, and I'm curious about the Kingdom of Sweets. Too bad there wasn't more of it!