Review: Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King by Paul Thompson
Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King is an action-packed fantasy based on the character from the Nutcracker ballet. One part magic school, one part mystery, one part gory retribution, this first book in the Nutcracker Trilogy keeps you engaged from beginning to end!
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King Publisher Description:
Unsure of how he escaped the prison known as Ivanov’s Home for Orphaned Boys, Fritz finds himself the newest apprentice in the most powerful wizard consortium, The Order.
After uncovering clues to a decade-old murder, Fritz becomes the unwitting target of someone who wants him dead. To keep him from solving the mystery, they’re willing to kill anyone – including Fritz’s friends and family.
Now Fritz is in a race against time to unravel the clues and unmask the murderer before the next kill. If he has any hopes of surviving, Fritz must unify his fellow group of dysfunctional apprentices and confront the most deadly enemy he’s ever known.
Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King is book one of the action-packed Nutcracker Trilogy chronicling Drosselmeyer’s rise to power and setting up the events in the Nutcracker Ballet.
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From page one, things are always happening. Some of it is overt, like confrontations and physical fights. These action sequences are detailed and varied, never straying into unnecessary or boring, which keeps the story moving. Less overt action drives some of the pacing, such as learning how the magic system works and unraveling the murder mystery. In these cases, the desire and reader expectation for explanations regarding unanswered questions keeps the pressure on.
It is easy to get caught up in this accelerating plot, eating it up right through to the end!
The Nutcracker Ballet
The story is based on the character of Clara’s Uncle Drosselmeyer in the Nutcracker ballet – a sort of prequel – and Thompson certainly has put in the work to create the right atmosphere to do the original justice.
Not only the plot of the ballet, but the choreography inspires many elements. To someone more familiar that I am, it is almost certain to be a gold mine of easter eggs. However, even with my limited experience, I recognized cape twirls and hand gestures incorporated into the magic system in a satisfying way.
Fritz is technically an apprentice, so his exposure to magic is primarily through his wizard master Boroda. However, he is connected socially with other apprentices and attends a non-magic school with them, which provides and fulfills many of the expected tropes of the magic school genre. These include dealing with bullying, applying magic in practical situations, and working through which adults to trust and when.
However, the apprentice angle allows a flexibility of location that the genre – traditionally set within a private boarding school – usually lacks. This means we have a variety of settings from magical wizard houses and meeting places to Dickens-style streets and orphanages. All of these work together to craft a world worthy of producing the Nutcracker in all its wonderful, baffling glory: juxtaposing child-like wonder with a darker minor key.
Fritz is a well-developed protagonist, characterized by his desire to protect his brother, his insatiable quest for knowledge, and his goodwill towards others. He is easy to identify with.
The other characters are similarly well-drawn. Boroda starts out as the aloof wise master, but is revealed to be an emotional man plagued by grief and a good man trying to destroy the corrupt system that allows the strong to prey on the weak. His arc is just as convincing as that of Fritz.
Some of the characters are simple to understand. The Czar that Boroda works with falls into the antagonist category early on by threatening Fritz’s brother. Others are enigmatic. The other wizards in The Order, and their apprentices, play a politics game that relies heavily on withholding and ferreting out information from one another, which makes it difficult to identify who can be trusted.
The wizards, whose appearances in the story are limited compared to their apprentices, are less readily recognizable in a scene with any number of them, but all the other characters have unique traits and personalities.
Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King is very gory. There are many confrontations that combine physical and magical fighting techniques and they tend to go into a lot of detail that can elicit some body horror. Violence and gore are not an issue for me, but the YA tag may lead some parents who are less familiar with the current genre trends to different expectations.
Thompson makes a serious argument that the antagonists are BAD, and everyone who turns a blind eye accepts blame for the evil they perpetrate. As a result, there is the sense of fierce pleasure in dealing death vicariously to those who harm children. Fritz steps into the role of avenger and punishes the powerful who would otherwise escape justice.
That being said, the gore is not necessarily unwarranted. The shock value provokes the reader’s reflection on the necessity of the violence. Which then leads into ruminating on the central theme of the story.
Protect and Provide
Who is responsible for protecting and providing for the weak when the governing authorities are negligent at best, active participants in the abuse at worst? Fritz’s ultimate role delivering retribution is only part of the picture in Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King.
The Order is intended to keep the peace between the five kingdoms, but at one point Marzi, one of the apprentices and Fritz’s friend, laments about all the good The Order could do to help people if the members weren’t fixated on becoming wealthy and powerful. Fritz teases, “Like what, then? If world peace isn’t good enough for you.”
Marzi’s vision certainly is a goal bigger than world peace. It involves taking on direct responsibility for the protection and care of others instead of fostering it off on a distant authority. It means seeing the needs of others in her daily life and working to meet them instead of playing politics and passing it off as success as long as there is no overt conflict.
Together, she and Fritz work to solve two fundamental problems that the children in one area face. They do so even though they themselves have been victims and are easily categorized as among the weak. In a way, this work vindicates the lethal actions Fritz takes as the story climaxes. He has already taken on and fulfilled the more mundane responsibilities regarding the weak and consequently has the right to demand justice on their behalf.
The thematic conclusion that this book comes to regarding protecting and providing for the weak is that it is our responsibility as individuals, regardless of our own circumstances. Furthermore, that responsibility comes consistently, to be acted upon proactively, long before we are in a position to fight injustice and legitimate evil.
Check Out Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King!
Drosselmeyer: Curse of the Rat King is a compelling story that goes far beyond the mere backstory for an enigmatic character of a well-loved ballet. The fast-paced action, engaging setting, and pressing themes make this certain to become a favorite. I can’t wait to read more in the Nutcracker Trilogy!