Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review: The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

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? (summary from Goodreads)

Bridges' The Gathering Storm is a fascinating if not completely attention-grabbing start to a series immersed in the supernatural, magic, and the traditions of historical Russian royalty.

At a very young age Katerina learns that she has the power to raise the dead, even unintentionally, and spends her life hiding it from everyone she knows, terrified of being branded evil. To save the tsarevitch Nicholas Alexandrovich from a spell however, Katerina uses her ability and her power is recognised by not only George, younger brother of the tsarevitch, but by the Montenegrin princesses, who had tried to bespell Nicholas. Overnight Katerina finds herself in the middle of an ages-old power struggle between dark and light courts and supernatural creatures. She knows she should be wary of the Montenegrin's, but can't help but be drawn to their brother Prince Danilo. Yet Danilo hides a dark secret and Katerina must face that many wish to use her power for evil...including possibly Danilo and his family. While her necromancy is frightening, does it make Katerina a monster? George certainly seems to think so...doesn't he? The time has come for Katerina to face her magic, but as a powerful enemy returns to get revenge on the Imperial family, who can she trust?

On first reading about The Gathering Storm, I knew this was one book I had to read. A combination of paranormal and historical is certainly right up my alley, and I was especially intrigued by the fact that Russia and it's royalty were at the centre of it. Unfortunately I wasn't as blown away by this book as I'd first figured I would be. While much of it's plot had the potential to do be gripping, it remained just a little short. Still, overall I found The Gathering Storm to be a likeable read, with what I considered it's good points mostly outweighing the somewhat more disappointing aspects.

One of the more difficult points was that there are a lot of characters in this book, some central to the story and some not so much. With similar names and family connections, it did at times become a little tedious trying to keep them separate as I found myself pulling back from the story in order to reacquaint myself with which character was who. The thing is though, this isn't something I wish to hold against the book as a whole because it is historically accurate, and Bridges does supply an introduction to Russian names and how they work at the beginning. It just may be something one will have to push past however, as I finally found myself able to do, in order to just go with the story.

Another issue for me was actually the pace of the story. There's so much to The Gathering Storm - supernatural creatures, magic, dark court vs light with the Tzar and Imperial families caught in the middle, ancient grudges, the struggle for women's rights...really, a lot. Yet so much of the story is focused on balls and proper manners that right when I felt like some sort of action might occur...it was circumvented by propriety. In this way, Katerina frustrated me, because though she wants to become a doctor in a man's world, and actually is quite powerful - even though she's grown up scared of it - she really doesn't seem to have much of a fighting spirit. There were so many times I wanted to yell at her to wake up and pay attention, times when I wanted her to do something more than just worry and talk. I do understand that her character is a representative of the times, but I don't know. I simply wanted more. I felt like there was build up upon build up with many moments of almost action and intrigue that then fizzled before the big bang! In this way I also found the final parts of the story anticlimactic, in that Katerina, having been so afraid of her powers for so much of the book, all of a sudden uses them in a big way...and, well, I missed the development of her finally becoming ready for that, gaining that fighting spirit. I couldn't help feeling like something was missing.

While this is in some ways unrelated, I must admit to being seriously peeved that there was no real beat down of Prince Danilo's sisters. Seriously, I could not stand these girls - kudos to Bridges for creating such really annoying and yet creepy antagonists - and I was so hooked on the idea of seeing them fall. I'll be reading the next book in the series with high hopes that those - well, I want to say 'bitches' - get what's coming to them!!

Now while some of plots fell just that little short of completely wowing me as I'd hoped, the idea behind them was great. I feel like maybe Bridges can go further with these elements in future books now that so much of the introductions are done with. It's certainly my hope that the more gritty points of this book can become more centered as the story continues. Plus, despite the muddling through so many characters and back and forth between fast paced events and slower meanderings, Bridges knows how to keep readers guessing as to the intent of many of her characters - here you should definitely be wary of who you trust, and I liked how that kept me on my toes, as it were! There's also hints to certain secrets that I believe will play much bigger roles in future books, and I look forward to the consequences of those!

Earlier I said the good outweighed the disappointing, and while that is because I did enjoy some of the elements mentioned earlier despite my issues, the 'good' also mostly comes in the form of Prince George and the tension between Katerina and him. Right from the start George is a bit the surly, broody type who knows just how to get under Katerina's skin, and that really jumped off the page. Like Katerina herself, I buoyed between wanting to slap him or kiss him! As grippingly frustrating as they were in all of their miscommunication and obliviousness, I thoroughly enjoyed their growing relationship and at the end it was it that stuck with me - especially their final moments together! It's certainly not going to be an easy relationship and should make for quite an entertaining read throughout the rest of the series!

The Gathering Storm does have it's highs and lows, but for the most part I found it a good read. It won't be for everyone, but I'm still interested to see where Bridges takes Katerina next.

Rating:

Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Published date: 10 January 2012
Pages: 400
Format: e-Galley
Series: The Katerina Trilogy, Book 1

Many thanks to Random House Children's Books and NetGalley!

Challenges: 2012 Debut Author Challenge;

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