Author: Robin Bridges
Series: The Katerina Trilogy, book 1
Genre: Paranormal YA, Historical Fiction YA
Published on: January 10, 2012
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge
Summary: 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?
Guys, I’ve been looking forward to reading THE GATHERING STORM, the first book in Robin Bridges’ new series, The Katerina Trilogy, for AGES. It just sounded so awesome: Imperial Russia (I fangirl this), paranormal beasties, a young girl coming to grips with her own dark gifts, and an evil threat to the Tsar and Russia itself. That sounds AMAZING. And the idea of it is. Historical fiction paranormals just set off all of my awesome alarms, and if you’ve been around le blog at all in the last little while, I’ve raved about how excited I was to read THE GATHERING STORM. Alas, there were quite a few things about this book that drove me bananas, and that made reading this a little difficult for me. I stuck with it, though, and I’m glad I did. The things that drove me crazy did so for the whole book, but I’m still invested in the outcome of this mess Katiya’s gotten herself in to. But I can’t tell you how sad it makes me that there’s really no way to read this book without being even a little bit confused at some point.
The overwhelming negative of this book for me was confusion. Guys, there’s a TON going on here. A TON. And I’ve read books that are dense with plot lines and elements before, so my brain is not unfamiliar with juggling a story. I think for me, the problem with my confusion over THE GATHERING STORM is that it seemed scattered and cluttered, like some of the things weren’t necessary, but were there anyway. There’s just about every paranormal creature you can think of in this book, but not all of them play any kind of major important role (yet, at least). And I found it very confusing to keep track of the beasties that are basically different species of the same creature: There’s maybe 5 different vampire species in this book with different names, different styles, from different places. Eventually I had to kind of ignore the differences and just treat them all as vampires who don’t get along. It was all just so CROWDED, guys. I found that I couldn’t juggle everything, and so the balls in the air just started falling on my head. In fact, it wasn’t until I kind of gave up trying to understand what was going on and focused instead on Katiya and the other characters that the book started to pick up a little bit. I don’t think I could tell you how much this bums me out. I wanted to LOVE this book SO HARD.
I’ve heard, too, that people were very confused by the names, and I can totally see that. I’ve tried (KEY WORD) reading Russian literature before and encountered the same problem. PROPS to Robin Bridges, though, because the abundance of characters who are related to each other and who have three different names is just a hallmark of that culture, and particularly the time period in which THE GATHERING STORM takes place. So, yay for accuracy! But it was hard sometimes, especially with the secondary characters. (Some kind of list or tree or something would have been ENORMOUSLY helpful in this regard. Huge. Is there one in the printed book? There wasn’t one in my ARC.) I found that as long as you knew the major people, and it’s not hard to figure out who they are, the names were manageable. It was really the beasties and their interactions with each other and their place in society that turned my brain to scrambled eggs. I still don’t understand them completely. Really, not even close.
I could probably write a little more about the things that confused me or seemed muddled and BANANAS, but there were things about the book that I legitimately liked and kept my interest when my understanding of the story flagged, and I want to talk about those things, too. First, I LOVE Imperial Russia. LOVE IT. It’s just seems so magical and tragic. In high school I was fascinated with the Romanovs and the Anastasia conspiracies. I READ NONFICTION ABOUT IT. (!!!NERD!!!) In fact, one of the things that really made me go gaga for this book was the setting. It’s so genius and so different from anything else, and that part of the book lived up to my expectations.
Related to this, it’s obvious that the amount of research that must have gone into accurately describing St. Petersburg, the Imperial family and their relations (multitudinous as they were), the clothes, the balls, the palaces, must have been exhaustive and laborious. Many of the characters in this book are actual historical figures. And the different paranormal creatures that appear here, their names, their differences, etc.–those are legit and taken from Russian folklore, according to author interviews. RESPECT. That’s lots of hard work, and you can see it in the details.
Speaking of the characters, these were the elements that kept me reading. Katiya is a great character. There were times when she seemed a little superficial and maybe not so smart, but she was mostly confused about her gifts, and afraid of them. I LOVED that she got her kicks reading medical journals and wanted to go to school and become a doctor. Modernity! Huzzah! George was awesome as well, and as the story went on, I focused my attention on their relationship as it grew. I wish it had been fleshed out a little more in the beginning/middle so that the end didn’t seem so out-of-nowhere, but I really enjoyed reading about them, and I can’t wait to see where things go for them in the next books. The Montenegrins, while a source of bafflement, were definitely creepy and dangerous and vengeful. VERY villainous indeed, and they certainly create plenty of jeopardy for Katiya, now and likely in the future as well.
*Sigh* I’m conflicted about this book, guys. One the one hand, even after reading the whole thing, I understand probably less than half of what’s going on because it just…I couldn’t make sense of all of it. On the other hand, I like Katiya quite a bit, and the characters are great. I’m loving George, too. And I very much love the setting and where the story might go for the PEOPLE. (If I understood the beasties, I’d probably be more invested in them.) The majority of the book seemed jumbled and lacking focus, but the end sharpened up a little and set up lots of juicy things to come. I’m looking forward to number 2 in this series simply because I want more Katiya and George, and because my fingers are still crossed that things will clear up and turn out to be badass. The premise of THE GATHERING STORM was so promising, and I’m still holding out hope, guys.