Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 26, 2011

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue. An evil presence is growing within Europe's royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina's strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar's standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina's help to safeguard Russia, even if he's repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn. The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart? 

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One might be hard-pressed to finish The Gathering Storm without referencing Wikipedia, but it is equally difficult to complete the novel without being entertained by this impressive debut. The book isn’t without flaw, but Bridges’ rich recreation of turn of the century Russia is brilliant and her integration of Gothic folklore and the paranormal, nothing short of fascinating. 

At first glance the book seems character heavy. I wont deny that the cast is large, but don't think the confusion a lot of readers seem to experience is something Bridges could control. I might be off base here but I think a lot of the problem is that readers are less familiar with the Romanovs than say the Tudors, the Bourbons, or the Borgias. I don't think its fair to criticize Bridges for this, but at the same I recommend familiarizing yourself with the family tree.  

Katerina Alexandrovna’s tendency to act alone isn’t my favorite character attribute, but Bridges more than made up for it with the internal struggle Katerina feels regarding her gift. She is sincerely conflicted by the realization that she is not merely a spectator in the otherworldly activities of her peers and genuinely troubled that she will have to choose a side on which to stand. As a reader, I found Katerina's alternating emotions offered a great deal of insight and solidified her as a compelling central character. 

To any fan of historic fiction, the perpetual scheming and conspiratorial maneuverings of life at court is old news. That in mind, the very nature of The Gathering Storm required Bridges to do something more than simply recreate the political chess board of the Imperial Russia circa 1888. Personally, I think she succeeded, but just how well is hard to say. From a paranormal standpoint, the execution was flawless. Recasting known figures as members of the light and dark Faerie realms added a significant amount of intrigue and originality to the story. It was the historic aspects that gave me reason to pause as I can’t help wondering if my admiration is due to Bridges’ characterizations and description or her general lack of literary competition. The bulk of Romanov lit centers on the reign of Nicholas II. Bridges’ story takes place a generation earlier, during the reign of Alexander III. Many of the characters feel fresh and different because, simply put, they are less well known. I like to give credit where due but I can’t say the whether or not the novelty I feel characterizes The Gathering Storm stems completely from Bridges’ pen. 

Having no real expectations going into the book, I have relatively few complaints. Beyond my aforementioned indecision I can honestly say there is only one aspect of the book I genuinely didn’t care for: the love triangle. It irks me to no end that this particular plot device has become a staple of young adult lit. It is unbelievable, hackneyed and by and large, fails to prove entertaining as most authors lack the necessary skill to pull it off. To Bridges’ credit, Katerina relationships with Romanov golden boy, George Alexandrovich, and the brooding Montenegro heir, Prince Danilo, play relatively minor role in the overall story. They also don’t revolve around pure physical lust. I appreciated that, but I didn’t find either affair particularly entertaining. Call me a fence sitter but I think The Gathering Storm had enough going for it without incorporating the fickle desires of the teenage heart.

A few hiccups here and there, but a memorable read from a promising new author. 

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Matrimony. That was the true mission of the Smolny Institute for Young Nobel Maidens. It was nothing more than a meat market for Russia's nobility, where princes from all across Europe sent their daughters, intending them to marry well. So there I sat, Katerina Alexandra Maria von Holstein-Gottorp, Duchess of the Odenburg... Royal meat for sale. I would rather be dead.
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kimba88 said...

I really enjoyed this one two..course i love historical novels and then add in a little paranormal and i start to drool! Love your thoughts on this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! :)