Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.
I've mentioned, many times, that I'm a big history buff, though you hardly need to be interested in history or politics to find the Russian revolution and the death of the Romanov's an engrossing and dramatic thing to read about. So I couldn't have been more excited when Jackson Pearce started talking about her new and entirely different project, set in the Russian revolution.
There was much talk on twitter about the conspiracy theory's involving the family and the endless speculation that one or more of them survived, and Pearce and I exchanged favourite non-fiction reads about some of the more intriguing lesser known attempts to free them.*
So when Indigo was having one of their (far too many) closing sales this summer, Tsarina was one of the books I gifted myself.
I'm not sure what I expected exactly, but sadly I was disappointed. I think one of the things that I felt, was there was precious little of the history woven into the tale. The three mains were all fictional and their interactions with actual historical personalities were very brief. Alexei himself is so briefly in it that he's an idea more than an actual character and we don't meet any of the rest of the family. Sure Natalya is fleeing across the country with a friend and an enemy, and I will grant you that Pearce has used that to plunk small pieces of the revolution into the storyline, but I didn't feel committed to it in any way. Which leads me to my next issue, the introduction to Natalya and Emilia was very flat before they are whisked away on their adventure.
Pearce opens with a ball, not much happens except that you get your one glimpse at Alexei, and the constellation egg before everything goes to pot. However, she doesn't exactly reveal much about either Natalya or Alexei, except that they're smitten with each other. Then she jumps four months and lands in boredom. Natalya and Emilia are two of only a few nobles who have not fled elsewhere to be safe, the entire Romanov family have long since disappeared to much farther afield in Russia. Yet in their pampered boredom she still doesn't really show me anything about these girls to peak my interest in them, so that when things start to get a move on I had a lot of trouble caring. I kept getting "too tired to read", which granted, I have a 1 year old and I'm back to work full time, so I honestly get too tired, yet somehow I find the time to read if I'm really engrossed....so...obviously..not so engrossing.
But the worst crime I felt was committed here, was the lack of integrity Natalya had in the face of Leo, her enemy and kidnapper. Somehow she falls in love with him, ostensibly because the two of them may be on opposing sides of the revolution but are equally in love with Russia and wish to save her. Again, Pearce failed to give me reasons why Natalya would have her head turned by him. Yes, he does a few small kindness's and although he does some rather heinous things he does them in the nicest way possible??! See how bad that sounds?? Anyhow, at no point is there some shining light of discovery where I thought, ohhhhhhh, yup, now I feel for him. Nor was there anything that I thought would outshine the "love" Natalya spent a lot of time thinking and talking about having for Alexei. And in theory, she was only chasing across Russia in an attempt to save the egg, thereby saving him, so I can't conceivably see why she would suddenly start crushing on someone else. Unless she's a fickle prat? Which doesn't really do much for me getting into this story.
I am unclear if this was book one, or a one off, but I have to say I really don't care enough to look into it to any degree. I couldn't honestly say where Pearce could take it with the way she left it off, but there was the openness that comes with books that intend to go on. So there may be a redemption coming for Natalya and Leo, even if I couldn't be bothered to read it.
A disappointing read that makes me wonder why Leigh Bardugo's fantastical sudo-Russia is the only YA Russia I've found compelling, there's so much potential there. So take note authors, I'm officially requesting a strong history based Russian YA novel.
*My book, The Secret Plot to Save the Tsar; New Truths Behind the Romanov Mystery, by Shay McNeal, has an incredible Canadian link, and also talks about how Nicholas's sister Olga escaped to Canada and lived the rest of her life in Toronto (Wellesly street if you're familiar with T.O.), and is buried in a cemetery in the north of the city. If you're ever in the Royal Ontario Museum you should stop in to see some of the family crystal pieces she bequeathed to them.
Tsarina, by J. Nelle Patrick
Published by Razorbill, February 27th, 2014