When struggling artist Forster finds an invitation to an enchanting annual party at a sprawling manor house, he can’t resist the alluring promise of magic and mystique. Wandering into the dazzling Peter Pan inspired revelry, he’s instantly swept up in the glamour and sparkle of the evening. But it’s the party’s enigmatic host that dazzles him the most. Bewitched by the woman with whisky coloured curls and blue-grey eyes, a woman who disappears as quickly as she appears, Forster sets out to find the woman he can’t shake from his mind.
As he learns more about the elusive host and her tragic past, Forster becomes entangled in her cursed life. Finally he’s discovered his muse and it’s not long before his whimsical fairytale inspired paintings catch the attention of the art world. Yet with every winter that passes, Forster gets closer and closer to losing the woman who gives his life and art meaning. The only way to save her is to break the curse, but first Forster must find the cruel man who created it. A man who has no intention of being found.
The follow-up to M. A. Kuzniar’s debut adult novel, Midnight in Everwood, is another classic ballet inspired retelling – this time taking its fairytale cues from Swan Lake. Part roaring twenties homage to The Great Gatsby, part dark literary fairytale, Upon A Frosted Star captures the post-war, jazz age spirit with its glitz, glamour and decadence. From the way the characters dress, talk and behave, you could almost imagine that the story was set in Long Island if it weren’t for the small, typically British touches sprinkled throughout the book. But don’t be fooled by the frivolous opening scenes, because it’s not long before things take a much darker turn.
I was a woman strung together with glitter and wishes. A midnight apparition, cast in the coldest winters. I would not be here tomorrow. But tonight I would drink champagne until my veins ran in golden, bubbling streams. I would dance until the ice in my heart melted. Kiss until my lips bruised. And I would live until it hurt.“
Like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s seminal novel and Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, this is as much a tragedy as it is a romance. Forster’s whirlwind relationship with the mysterious Odette is doomed from the moment they meet, and though it’s peppered with the sweetness of first love, it’s a story that’s filled with heartache, loss and despair. Kuzniar writes Forster’s fascination with Odette almost like it’s an addiction. He’s besotted with her, as she is with him, and his desperation to save her is palpable. You want them to break the curse, even if it feels more and more of an impossibility the deeper you get into the novel.
Whilst fans of Midnight in Everwood will delight in the equally whimsical descriptions of food and beautifully imaginative revelries here, this book falls a little short of the enchanting magic of its predecessor. For one, it’s less about the ballet and more about the romance. Told through the eyes of Forster, with glimpses into Odette’s POV as she relays her past to him, the book has a very singular focus: that of Forster saving the woman he loves. Everything else – Forster’s best friends Marvin and Rose, his estranged relationship with his family, the source of the magic fuelling Odette’s curse – feels a little like window dressing. Intriguing but never given room to expand, and therefore forgettable.
Books are, of course, subjective; endings even more so. Whether you feel satisfied by the way the curtains fall on Upon A Frosted Star will depend entirely on your propensity for happy endings. Personally, I love them. But I’ll settle for a hopeful, bittersweet ending that suggests happiness might be found in the future. With this book, Kuzniar delivers an intense and emotional end that’s not particularly satisfying but is nonetheless fitting to the tragic spirit of the story. It might not have the charm of Midnight in Everwood but it has a darker Brothers Grimm-esque tone that will appeal to those readers who enjoy a more haunting denouement.
Though Upon A Frosted Star feels as if it misses one too many opportunities to make the characters as three dimensional as the fantastical descriptions of its parties and evocative settings, Kuzniar truly does have a gift for weaving history with fairytale fantasy. Her love of ballet shines through in every leap and pirouette, and the wintry backdrop makes this the ideal book to curl up with on a cold, dark night with a mug of cream topped hot chocolate.
Upon A Frosted Star was published by HQ on 21 September 2023