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The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan
Star Rating: 5/5
TL;DR: This book is a perfect example of what it’s supposed to be – a Christmas fairytale
Number of pages: 544
Release date: October 1, 2004
Genre: Fantasy, Holiday, Children’s
Buy the book: Amazon
Tagline: “Love conquers time.”
Other notes: Illustrations by Laurel Long
Synopsis: Santa Claus is the king of Forever, land of the immortals. When a little boy writes to Santa asking what no one else has ever asked—what he wants for Christmas—a miracle occurs: Santa and his wife are blessed with a daughter, Holly. It is the first time a child has ever been born in Forever. An evil wizard called Herrikhan has plans for baby Holly, however, and curses both her and the land of the immortals. Holly’s heart is turned to ice, which preserves her compassion and innocence but also puts her at risk if she grows too warm and her heart melts. Meanwhile, everyone who has come to celebrate the birth of the new princess is now trapped in Forever and will remain so until the curse is broken.
This book takes us through Holly’s journey of growing up in this magical land but isolated from her people and feeling unworthy of her place in Forever. When Holly is seventeen, she embarks on a journey to the Empire City to earn her immortality and break the curse. There, along with her magical animal friends, Holly discovers her path and more.
Review: Firstly, there are many a book reviewer who would rate this book poorly for reasons I will discuss further down. Excepting technical aspects like spelling and grammar (I know this should be a given, but I live in both the self-published and traditionally published world), I tend to judge books based on what they’re meant to be, not an across-the-board system. I’m not going to judge The Legend of Holly Claus by all the same standards as Clive Barker’s Abarat series, even though there are a good many similarities. Abarat is not meant to be a fluffy, holiday tale of love and joy, whereas The Legend of Holly Claus most definitely is. Right that said, here’s what I liked about it.
The Legend of Holly Claus is perfection when it comes to happy holiday stories. <--I don’t use the P-word lightly about entertainment. I bought this book about ten years ago and have read it almost every year at Christmas since. I know that 544 page count might seem intimidating, but the print is a good bit larger than your average novel, plus there are illustrations (more on that later) scattered throughout, so it’s actually a pretty quick read as novels go. I try to read this book every year for the same reasons I watch A Muppet Christmas Carol and Elf every year, because it makes me happy and all warm and fuzzy inside and want to push my enthusiasm on others. I sent this to a group text I have with the bestie and another of our close friends because this part always makes me laugh.
There are loads more bits just like that too, parts that make my smile no matter how many times I read this book. And it makes me cry too, which I hate. For those of you not in the know, I really dislike crying. Or rather, I dislike what comes with crying. I know crying is healthy because it’s cathartic, but I want my catharsis to be efficient, so please don’t try and comfort me unless I reach out first, in which case I need a proper cuddle. So get ready to feel things with this book.
I also really love the characterizations in this book. Holly is meant to be the most compassionate being in the universe. The book itself says, “Nicholas and Viviana, immortal beings, you are in the presence of the purest and most compassionate heart that has ever been born,” and that is portrayed so well on every page. But I think people sometimes think compassion and purity are isolated from anger, and I don’t agree with that at all. Civil injustices make us angry, and that is compassion. Holly’s character gets angry at cruelty, indignant at the idea that children can go hungry and people do nothing to immediately stop it, and I think that’s such a good move by Brittney Ryan. Holly isn’t portrayed as some insipid good-two shoes. She teases, she defies her parents to do what she thinks is right, and I think that’s so important to the story because she is relatable.
Other than her, the characters are painted with such diverse personalities. There’s vivacious Lexi, a fox with more personality and opinions than she knows what to do with, and bumbling Euphemia, an owl who just wants to do well but seems to always get it wrong. Nicholas Claus (Santa) is crafted so richly as a devoted but overprotective father, but who can blame him? He’s just trying to keep his only child from harm. Of all the characters, however, Tundra is my absolute favorite. He’s a wolf, so dignified with a fantastically dry wit. And he loves Holly so dearly, but he is protective of her in a completely different way than Nicholas. He’ll make every effort to preserve Holly’s happiness as he stands ready to defend her.
This story also takes a really good look at what it’s like to have a disability. Holly can’t go outside in warm weather because it will actually kill her. Her heart will melt, and she will die. She has to take precautions inside her own home (no fires, no warm breezes from the outside, no blankets) for the same reason. She has a conversation with a sick little girl, and they understand one another because the little girl has to stay warm to get better. And it’s not handled with kid gloves. It’s right out there: this is a thing that happens in the world. Different people have different needs. As this is a children’s book, I think that’s such a great way to open up that conversation with children. “That little girl doesn’t have any hair because the medicine she needs makes it fall out. That little boy is in a wheelchair because some people need them to get around.” As someone who once had tube hanging out of her chest as a child, I appreciate this.
And can we talk about these illustrations? They are gorgeous! I personally love pen and ink drawings, so these are right up my street. And Laurel Long does such a lovely job with each one, providing an ambiance to the scene each one is depicting. These are my two favorite:
So what about things I didn’t like? There’s not much to be honest. The villain, Herrikhan, might be a little too cookie-cutter. He is very much like a lot of villains I’ve seen in the past, but then you have to remember that this is a book meant for children. Even so, children need three-dimensional characters as well, and Herrikhan is just plain evil. Nothing else. In addition to that, there is a part with talking dolls, and I found that massively creepy. If I ever hear a doll start talking, that thing is going to the bottom of a lake ASAP! I also wish the appendix in the back of the book that lists all the Immortals mentioned would provide us with more information about the person. We get a short one or two sentence synopsis and that’s it. The good definitely outweighs the bad here, though.
Recommend?: Abso-freakin-lutely! This book should be right up there with the top Christmas entertainments.