I have had a theory that nothing can tear your heart out, stomp on it, and then put it gingerly back together like a middle grade book and The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair proves that point 1000%. Literally, the first chapter just stabs you right in the heart. THE FIRST CHAPTER. I was not prepared. I cried and then kept reading and cried SO MANY TIMES after that.
But before I get ahead of myself in the intro, let’s take a look at this delightful book.
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 . . . ?
When we start the story (after the heart-wrenching prologue), we find Thomasina Burgess. She is still grieving her brother, her father barely looks at her, and her mother has been in bed since her brother died. She is just getting by.
But then the River Thames freezes over and things begin to change for her. A frost fair opens up on the river and she and her father start to sell gingerbread there. A man named Inigo visits her in the night and promises he can bring her brother back from the dead. To do so, she must visit the Other Frost Fair four times for the number of years her brother Arthur has been gone.
As you might imagine, not everything is as it seems with the Other Frost Fair or Inigo, but it will take Thomasina losing her memories of her brother and her skin being covered in snowflakes before she figures that out.
To say I loved this book would be an understatement. Thomasina is such a kind, generous, and caring main character. She has been irrevocably hurt by her brother’s death. She blames herself for it. But through the events of the story and with the help of her new friends Anne and Henry, she finds her strength. She rides a freaking bear for goodness sake. That is some badass behavior!
She also discovers that her parents are not as lost to her as she once thought. And here is where I must discuss how mental health is treated in this book. It’s done so, SO well. Thomasina’s mother’s grief is strong. But Thomasina doesn’t fault her for staying in bed, for her nightmares, or for her absence. She wishes it was different. She wishes she had her mother. She may be mad about it a time or two, but she doesn’t fault her mother for any of it. There are even multiple times in the book where Thomasina literally says that madness isn’t a bad thing.
And what her mother does near the end of the book…I CRIED.
I also love how the doctor (??) was portrayed in the story. To say mental health care was lacking in this time period…well, yeah. That would be an understatement and a half. It was cruel and harmful and that was shown very well in the book.
Ok, enough about that. Let’s talk about the sweets!! I love the ingenuity of Anne and Thomasina making medicinal sweets. Sweets that can help you with a cough but also taste amazing. Brilliant!! (I would also like some recipes, please and thank you!!) I also love their teamwork and their care for each other. Anne was ready to beat a man for Thomasina. That is friendship!!
I also love the investigation that takes place with Henry and Thomasina. No spoilers but they have to look into a member of Henry’s family and they go on a bit of adventure to find a special item. It’s such a fun part of the story.
The ending of this book could also not have been better. I absolutely sobbed. Just tears and snot. It was not pretty. I love how Thomasina (and her parents) come to terms with Arthur’s death. It’s beautiful and a great example for kids reading this book. Hell, it’s a good example for me!
If you love middle-grade books, magical stories (with ice animals), fantasy, or ice fairs, you need to read The Miraculous Sweetmakers: The Frost Fair. You will not be disappointed.
About the Author
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.