Once again continuing with the catchup, I am belatedly joining The Write Reads Tour for The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair, the debut from natasha Hastings which is out soon. This book ended up taking me by surprise on so many levels, and was a delightful read particularly as the nights draw in and the weather turns colder.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
An amazing and captivating, curl-up-on-the-sofa debut about a magical frost fair and the lasting power of friendship.
It’s a cold winter during the Great Frost of 1683. Thomasina and Anne are the best of friends, one running her father’s sweet shop and the other the apprentice at the family apothecary – together they sell their goods on the frozen River Thames. When a family tragedy turns Thomasina’s world upside down, she is drawn to a mysterious conjuror and the enchanted frost fair. But soon the world of Father Winter threatens to claim everything she holds dear. Will they be able to solve the magical mysteries that surround them . . . ?
I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the Frost Fairs on the Thames, so there was no way I was going to pass up a chance to read a fantastical twist on them, and I’m glad I didn’t because this book was an absolute delight and took me completely by surprise.
Firstly, I have to say it’s a stunning book in terms of design. I love the cover design, but the interior design is charming, from the font and wintery ornamentation for the chapter headers, to the fantastic illustrations throughout the book. Alex T. Smith’s artwork really brings the characters and moments to life, and I particularly loved the illustration of Inigo.
One of my favourite aspects of the book was the writing, which treads the balance of readability especially for a younger audience, but also indulging in some truly fantastic descriptive prose. Hastings has absolutely got her finger on the pulse of winter, and all the different elements that we associate with that time of year, and the atmosphere she manages to conjure as a result feels like stepping out a cold winter’s day and into the warmth and light of a Christmas shop, with all the colours and smells, and nostalgia that comes with it. The author also uses all the senses throughout this book, particularly when exploring the sweetmaking aspect, and it got to the point where I could practically taste the creations that Anne and Thomasina were coming up (and I certainly want to try them). This skill with the description was also evident with all the fantastical elements, and it made it so easy to imagine the Other Frost Fair and the tendrils that were twining around the real one and Thomasina’s life; and the imagery for the Frost Folk and Father Winter was spectacular.
‘The Frost Bear was so close to her that she could see ice as delicate as filigree silver on his snout, as well as the deep cracks in his marble-white eyes. Very gently, as if he knew she was terrified, he reached forward and pressed his nose into one of her hands that was dangling at her side.’
The other area where this book truly excels, and where it took me by surprise with the sheer amount of impact is that this story as full of magic and wonder and whimsy as it is, is also a complex, emotional exploration of grief and guilt, and how that experience can differ from person to person and how it can feed into other issues. Even from reading the blurb I hadn’t expected such a serious topic to be so central to the story, but I loved that it was, and I think it’s why this book will appeal to readers beyond the target middle grade audience. It’s also fantastic to see these topics being brought up for younger readers, and in such a way that it isn’t overwhelming and is balanced with warmth and understanding and acceptance.
This is certainly a book I wish that had been around when I was that age!
‘This incident, tiny in itself, gave her the feeling that the father she’d grown up with had come back, even if just for a golden, shimmering moment. It made her heart ache.’
It’s also not static or separate from the events, but instead it is woven into this wonderful, captivating story; and that is how it should be. I also appreciated the historical angle here, and how Hastings doesn’t shy away from shining light on how mental health was viewed in the time period, especially for female patients; again with that accessible approach, without drawing away from the emotional impact or maintaining the charm of the overall story. The Miraculous Sweetmakers is a tale of multiple journeys, and that is another reason why this aspect is so powerful, because it not only explores how different people dealt with these emotions and this situation, but also how the journey to acceptance was just as different, but also brought about connections new and old.
Which leads nicely, to another strength and focus on this book and that is the relationships. Firstly, family – because Thomasina’s story is so intimately tied up with her family, through her guilt towards and memories of her brother, to her responsibilities in caring with her parents, and their drifting in their grief. It was a portrayal that really hit home, and it adds so much to the characterisation of our main character, because we can see how it shapes her reactions and her goals, and it’s so easy to see how we would be if we were in her shoes. However, as central as family is to this story; it was really the friendships that stole the limelight in this book. I particularly loved the friendship that blossomed between Anne and Thomasina, that lovely, quirky friendship that blossoms over a shared interest and connection. It also felt like it encapsulated the feeling of the season, that coming together of kindred spirits; and again, returning to the more serious element of the story, it was a reminder that those connections can blossom against challenging backdrops.
‘I know you’re worried about bringing your brother back to life, but we’re worried about what’s happening to you.’
I also enjoyed the friendship that grew between Inigo and Thomasina. This was a very different friendship, and I will admit it was one I didn’t trust for a large proportion of the book; but I loved the bond that had been forged between them by the end of the book, and how the acceptance of each other and themselves, also played into the conclusion of Thomasina’s arc and past and present coming together with the realisation that the former can’t be changed, but that there was a future to look forward too.
The ending was really the cherry on the cake for me. On the one hand, we had the happy ending and seeing Anne and Thomasina’s friendship and dreams blossoming and seeing the multiple journey threads tying together with the characters that came together. On the other, it was a little bittersweet, because Thomasina’s dream, the wish that had driven her so far and nearly cost so much was out of reach; and yet that in itself made for a perfect and fulfilling ending, and the last scene with her and Inigo was both heart breaking and heart-warming and was an important step in dealing with grief.
The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair was a joy to read, a wonderful blending of history and fantasy and with all the magic of winter wrapped up in a beautiful parcel. In turns heartbreaking, captivating and whimsical, with an eerie edge, this is a story that will charm readers of all ages.
Natasha Hastings started developing The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair while studying history at Cambridge University, where she focused on gender and mental illness. While exploring these topics, she became determined to have the lives of working women, as well as their experiences of mental illness in this period, form the heartbeat of her debut book, The Frost Fair.
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If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.
One thought on “Blog Tour (Book Review): The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair – Natasha Hastings”
Fantastic review! xx