Saint 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. 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 unwanted attention . . . including from two young men.
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?
One of my great loves, after books and cats, of course, is history. For a number of years I read only historical non-fiction, and I read everything from biographies on European monarchs to books about slavery in North Africa, books on Mao in China and even books about the plague. I would go through crazes where I would read a great book about someone and then want to read everything to do with that person, that time period and that country. One particularly good biography on Catherine the Great sent me off on a huge Russian history tangent for months. So when I heard the premise of The Gathering Storm, months ago from the Class of 2k12, I knew this was a debut I had to check out.
Russia, is one of those somewhat exotic countries, that despite the Internet, easy travel options and a wealth of information on the topic, can always seems very foreign. Like India, Egypt or China. The language, the customs and the rich history are remarkably unique from the rest of Europe, and because of that it makes for a unique story setting. I loved how Bridges used the folklore and history to set up a court so similar to what was historically accurate but imbued it with paranormal elements. Russia was a country whose folklore and beliefs had a huge basis in fantasy type elements, you need look no further than the stories and beliefs surrounding famed Russians such as Rasputin and Catherine the Great to see that people were easily inclined to believe them more than just mere mortals. This all sets up Bridges story perfectly.
Filled with vampires, bogatyr, revenants, faeries and necromancers, Bridges Russian imperial court is teeming with dangerous intrigue and nasty surprises; not the political waters most debutant's would confidently maneuver. Katerina is no exception. Following her as she seemingly lands herself in one disaster after another while unintentionally uncovering a variety of dangerous plots was entertaining and engrossing, and Bridges beautifully captures Russia in that class and time.
However, I did find myself getting confused. At first I thought it was from a little too much mystery surrounding the various groups of vampires, that it wasn't being spelled out clearly for a reason, a bigger surprise later on maybe. But by the end of the book I was still a bit unclear about the varying groups, who their loyalties lay with, and why. Then a scene with the Grand Duke illustrated to me that perhaps it was just a pacing thing, that in a rush to make a scene happen the information either wasn't made clear enough or just didn't entirely make sense
"Danilo, you cannot leave me in here!"
But the crown prince and his sister had already left. The hallway fell silent.
There were no windows in this room, decorated in an Oriental style, and only the one door, which was locked. I was trapped. No one would be able to hear me above the noise of the ball.
Except George Alexandrovich, if luck was with me.
"Your Imperial Highness?" I spoke aloud. "Please, Your Imperial Highness. If you can hear me, the tsar is in danger. Konstantin Pavlovich has returned and is here at Peterhof. Princess Cantacuzene was raising the undead army for him."
I tried to stay calm.
"Your Imperial Highness? Georgi?" I whispered desperately.
There was a sudden commotion in the hall. I could hear Elena shrieking.
The door opened, and instead of the Vladiki prince, I saw the grand duke. I wanted to cry......
He wasn't at the dance, so how was he supposed to hear her and arrive instantaneously? So I was a bit confused on some of the elements.
That being said, it was fairly minor, and Bridges drew such a believable world with the paranormal aspects so well woven through the whole, that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I'm impressed enough with The Gathering Storm that I'm fairly confident her pacing/clarity issues are just a first time author foible, and will all be cleared up in book two The Unfailing Light, due out October 9th, 2012.
In the meantime, if you're looking for some intriguing non-fiction on Russia I highly recommend these books:
Catherine The Great, by Henri Troyat,
and The Secret Plot to save the Tsar, New Truths Behind the Romanov Mystery, by Shay McNeal
Also, Robin has several images on her site of the actual Smolny, Winter Palace and Imerial family.
The Gathering Storm, The Katerina Trilogy, By Robin Bridges
Published by Delacorte Press, January 10th, 2012
My copy kindly provided by Random House
Buy The Gathering Storm on Amazon